31 October 2009

Google Voice Has 1.4 Million Users, According To Leaked Info

from Google Watch

It's not even rolling out to everyone yet, but the Google Voice phone management application already has 1.42 million users, 570,000 of which use it daily according to a letter Google sent to the Federal Communications Commission this week about its call-blocking behavior.

The version that eWEEK saw on the FCC's Web site Oct. 29 was redacted, but Business Week unearthed the data point Oct. 30.

Google filed the letter to answer the FCC's inquiry into the ins and outs of how Google Voice blocks certain phone calls in rural areas.

Google admitted it did this to thwart traffic-pumping phone porn and free conference call schemers seeking to leverage Google Voice, a free Web app that gives users one special number to ring and manage their home, work and mobile phones.

However, Google also asked that the Google Voice users number, as well as the the names of third party providers with whom Google has contracted to supply telecom inputs to support Google Voice, be redacted from the document to the FCC. In something of an embarrassing gaffe by Google on par with the Janet Jackson Wardrobe Malfunction, Google told me Oct. 30:

Though we had intended to keep sensitive information regarding our partners and the number of Google Voice users confidential, the PDF submitted to the FCC was formatted improperly.

And presto, now we all know what Google didn't want us to know. Why doesn't Google want us to know that? According to its request for confidentiality:

The information subject to this request is commercial information that Google customarily guards from competitors in the highly competitive market for Web-based applications.

BusinessWeek also said Google alludes to taking Google Voice beyond the U.S., signing contracts with a number of "international service providers for inputs to Google Voice." Good for Google, I say. It needs to get international exposure for Google SEO to take off. That's what happened to Skype.

Google Voice has many, many miles to go before catching Skype's user base of 481 million, but 1.4 million users is not bad considering only a select few could use the application until June 25, when Google began rolling it out to more folks.

That's when Google opened up the select invite period, but things have been rocky since July, when Apple rejected Google Voice. As if it's not enough that AT&T sicced the FCC hounds on Google for blocking calls in September.

We're still waiting to see how that unfolds. Meanwhile, have you heard of VoxOx? It's also free to a degree, and then low cost, and provides the same functionality and more.

Of course, there is always the old school standby, Skype. The choices are varied, and all have something good to offer users.

Facebook Changes May Benefit Brands

from Online Media Daily

Facebook on Wednesday laid out a "roadmap" for developers, outlining upcoming changes aimed at making it easier for users to find and use applications and help app creators build their business on the social network.

Among the key updates in store, Facebook will enable developers to ask for users' primary email address within applications to facilitate direct contact. At the same time, developers will only be able to send notifications and invitations via email, a user's Facebook Inbox or the News Feed and other activity streams.

New application and games dashboards are slated for the home page, making it easier for people to see the latest apps they have used as well as discovering new ones based on what friends are engaging in.

To provide easier access, the applications bookmarks will be moved from the bottom left side of any page on Facebook to a more prominent location on the left side of the home page. An "Ad Bookmark" button will also be created for apps.

Among broader changes in the works, Facebook will end its verification program for apps, instead applying the initiative's more rigorous standards to all apps. Facebook is also launching an "Open Graph" API (application protocol interface) so any Web page can, in effect, become a Facebook brand page -- users can become a fan of the page, and it will show up on that user's profile and in search results.

"This means that Facebook could become a more important distribution channel for publishers even if they don't have a Facebook Page -- which could be very powerful for both Facebook and publishers in general," noted Inside Facebook editor Justin Smith in a blog post Wednesday.

Other social media experts said the changes planned in the next six months could have far-reaching implications for brands, especially the Open Graph initiative. "This is a big change because it means Facebook is no longer a destination and the experience is spread to all kinds of places," said Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at digital consulting firm Altimeter Group. In that sense, Open Graph is a developer focused follow-up to Facebook Connect, the service that lets users log onto third-party sites using their Facebook account information.

Social marketing specialists also noted that the new developer rules open the door to email marketing and branding via Facebook. The ability to collect email addresses "is enormous for our brands and agencies because we will be able to create strategies around giving Facebook users ways to opt-in to share their primary email addresses with the brands," said Mike Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media, which helps companies manage their social media presence.

He added that the step will bridge the gap between the more established technique of email marketing and newer approaches via social media. In a blog post Thursday, Facebook's Austin Haugen said the email practices the company is developing will be similar to signing up for or creating accounts on other Web services. "When you do so, those services can email you directly to confirm a purchase, or provide newsletters or updates for which you signed up," he wrote.

But he also emphasized the voluntary aspect of the new email feature for users: "Keep in mind that applications will never be given your email address unless you explicitly grant them permission, and like other websites you can always choose to unsubscribe if the service is no longer of value."

Facebook has had a series of privacy stumbles from the Beacon program, informing friends about users' purchases on other sites, to its terms of service controversy, where it was forced to revise its rules after appearing to claim perpetual ownership of material posted to the site.

The company separately Thursday posted an updated privacy policy as part of the public comment process it adopted for all new Facebook governance policies it adopted in April following the TOS controversy. As with the revised terms, the latest version of Facebook's privacy rules are intended to do away with legalese in favor of plain language and greater clarity.

30 October 2009

Rapid Changes, Expansion Of Mobile Industry


AdMob, the world`s largest mobile advertising platform, examined the rapid and global growth of mobile Web and application usage over the past two years in their September 2009 AdMob Mobile Metrics Report. This month marks the second anniversary of the Mobile Metrics Report and the growth in traffic since September 2007 demonstrates that mobile data usage is a truly global phenomenon. In September 2009 AdMob received more than 100 million ad requests from 14 countries, and more than 10 million ad requests from 64 countries.

The report also highlights the rapid growth in usage of mobile Web sites and applications on new devices in the past year. In September 2008, the Motorola RAZR was the top device in the US, and the iPhone was the only touchscreen device in the Top 10. In September 2009, the list of the top 10 devices includes five with touchscreens, six with Wi-Fi capabilities, and six with application stores. These devices are responsible for a much higher percentage of mobile usage than their share of handsets sold.1 However, feature phones like the
Samsung R450 and Motorola RAZR V3 still represent 60 percent of ad requests in the US. The strong mobile Web usage on these feature phones is likely driven by unlimited data plans.

Highlights from the September 2009 AdMob Mobile SEO Metrics Report include:

* In September 2007 AdMob had 1.6 billion ad requests, in September 2008 5.1 billion, and in September 2009 10.2 billion.
* Nearly every region of the world experienced immense growth in the past two years, with North America, Asia, Western Europe, Oceania and Latin America seeing a six-fold increase in traffic since September 2007.
* Worldwide iPhone and iPod touch traffic increased 19 times from September 2008 to September 2009 in the AdMob network.
* In September 2009 42 percent of requests in the US were made from Wi-Fi capable devices. 18 percent of actual US requests were made over a Wi-Fi connection in September 2009 compared to only 5 percent in September 2008.
* Devices running on the Android Operating System (OS) accounted for 17 percent of smartphone traffic in AdMob`s network in the US in September 2009, up from 13 percent in August 2009. The HTC Dream (G1) was the number three device and the HTC Magic was the number 10 device in September 2009 in the US.

As with the iPhone OS, much of the Android traffic in AdMob`s network came from applications.

This data is based on usage of handsets and smartphone devices during the month of September 2009 in AdMob`s network of more than 15,000 mobile Web sites and applications. AdMob market share is calculated by the percentage of requests received from a particular handset; it is a measure of relative mobile Web and application usage and does not represent handset sales. Additional details and regional data are available in the full September 2009 report.

AdMob stores and analyzes handset and operator data from every ad request in its network to optimize ad serving. Each month, the AdMob Mobile Metrics Report aggregates this data to provide insights into major trends in the mobile ecosystem. Visit AdMob`s Metrics Report site (http://metrics.admob.com) to access the full September 2009 report, view past reports, or sign up to get an email notification when future reports become available.

About AdMob

AdMob is the world's largest mobile advertising platform, serving more than 8.5 billion mobile banner and text ads per month across a wide range of leading mobile Web sites and applications. AdMob helps advertisers connect with a relevant audience of consumers on mobile devices and gives publishers the ability to effectively monetize their mobile traffic. Incorporated in April 2006, AdMob provides the tools, data, and business models fueling the explosive growth of mobile media in more than 160 countries and territories worldwide.

Coming Soon: Internationalized Domain Names

from PC World

Starting in mid-November, countries and territories will be able to apply to show domain names in their native language, a major technical tweak to the Internet designed to increase language accessibility.

A billboard in China advertising with an IDN - Chinese language domain
On Friday, the Internet's addressing authority approved a Fast-Track Process for applying for an IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) and will begin accepting applications on Nov. 16.

The move comes after years of technical testing and policy development, said the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which held a meeting in Seoul this week.

Currently, domain names can only be displayed using the Latin alphabet letters A-Z, the digits 0-9 and the hyphen, but in future countries will be able to display country-code Top Level Domains (cc TLDs) in their native language. ccTLDs are those that have a two-letter country designation at the end of a domain name.

In reality, the new domain names will be stored in the DNS as sequences of letters and numbers beginning xn-- in order to maintain compatibility with the existing infrastructure. The characters following the xn-- will be used to encode a sequence of Unicode characters representing the country name.

One of the primary concerns with implementing IDNs is the security and stability of the Domain Name System (DNS). That system enables the translation of domain names written with characters and digits into IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, which can then be queried by a Web browser.

ICANN said it would initially allow for a "limited" number of IDNs, which are subject to ICANN's approval and stability testing. Still, there are likely to be hiccups, ICANN warned.

"The usability of IDNs may be limited, as not all application software is capable of working with IDNs," ICANN said in a59-page proposal dated Sept. 30 that describes the Fast Track process. "It is up to each application developer to decide whether or not they wish to support IDNs. This can include, for example, browsers, email clients, and sites where you sign up for a service or purchase a product and in that process need to enter an e-mail address."

ICANN has set some language restrictions for IDNs: they must be in an official language of a country or territory and have legal status or at minimum "serve as a language of administration."

According to the proposal, ICANN will charge registries US$26,000 for an evaluation processing fee, which can be paid in the local currency. ICANN would also like an annual contribution fee of 3 percent of a registries revenue, which can be as low as 1 percent for low-volume registries. For both fees, registries can request a fee waiver, ICANN said.

28 October 2009

'Father of Wi-Fi' Honored With Science Prize

From ABC Science

John O'Sullivan says he wasn't setting out to revolutionise the 
digital age when he started his career in radio astronomy

The inventor of high-speed wireless networks has been awarded Australia's Prime Minister's Science Prize for 2009.

Electrical engineer Dr John O'Sullivan of CSIRO says "it's a real honour" to receive the prize, which was presented at a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra this evening.

"It's a reflection of all those who have helped me and worked with me over the years," he says.

Wireless LAN, also known as Wi-Fi, allows devices such as mobile phones, lap tops and printers to connect to the internet remotely.

The technology is used daily in an estimated 1 billion devices around the world.

But O'Sullivan says he wasn't setting out to revolutionise the digital age when he started his science career in radio astronomy more than three decades ago.

"We were trying to detect [the radio pulse] of exploding mini black holes."

O'Sullivan says he and a group of researchers were filing through hundreds of metres of 35 millimetre film trying to look for the distinctive patterns of radio pulses.

Fourier Transforms

He decided there had to be a quicker and easier way to filter through the film and so developed a chip, called Fourier transforms, which could process the information more efficiently.

"Fourier transform is a mathematical process that takes a signal, voice or image, and splits it into its constituent frequencies."

O'Sullivan says once the signal is broken down into its frequencies, it becomes far more efficient to process.

While he never found mini-black holes, O'Sullivan's chips became a vital part of modern day computing.

In the early 1990's when portable computers and the internet were just emerging, O'Sullivan and his team at CSIRO started to look at the idea of networking.

"We could see that if you put portable computing together then networking then you really had something."

Wireless Revolution

Wireless LAN had been around since the 1970's says O'Sullivan, but it was very slow, much slower than wired computers.

"We believed the networking had to go as fast as the wires."

O'Sullivan says the problem with wireless networking is reverberation, where the radio waves from the outgoing signal bounce around the surrounding environment causing an echo that distorts the signal.

Utilising their past experience with Fourier transforms, O'Sullivan' and his team build a fast chip that could transmit the signal whilst reducing the echo.

O'Sullivan says it's "incredible" to think of the amount of people using the technology today.

"We thought we were starting something big, but we're blown away at how widespread it now is."

27 October 2009

Newspapers Still Suffering From Poor Circulation

the Economist

Sales of American newspapers keep falling

MORE bad news for America's newspaper industry. In the six months to the end of September, daily circulation fell by 10.1% to 30.4m compared with the same period in 2008. All of the top 20 papers have seen their circulation plunge, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal. The Journal now has the biggest circulation in the country, surpassing USA Today, which suffered an enormous 17.5% drop in readership over the same period. Paying readers are now turning to the internet and relying on organic search marketing to get the news free.

The Facebook Backlash Continues

From PC World

Facebook's latest interface tweaks make the default feed more like it was before the last major home page overhaul, but the changes aren't without some issues, and they have sparked some backlash among Facebook users.

Facebook gave its home page a makeover … again. On Oct. 23, the social networking site quietly rolled out some fairly significant changes to the way information is displayed on users' home page. The updates make the default feed more like it was before the last major home page overhaul, but the changes aren't without some issues, and they have sparked some backlash among Facebook users.

The Good

When Facebook changed the home page earlier this year, it went to a more Twitterlike feed of real-time status updates. Basically, every status update from your network of friends is displayed as it is entered, without any filtering.
I have bad news for those whose day gets ruined when Facebook doesn't look the same: It will continue to change. Everything does.
The new Facebook home page News Feed brings relevance back to the main feed. Rather than displaying everything from everyone, the News Feed uses an algorithm to display only the posts and status updates that your network is interested in. The more likes, comments or interactions a post within your network has, the more likely it will appear in your News Feed.

Robert Scoble, a technology evangelist and social networking guru, described the change on his blog: "This makes Facebook much more useful because you only see the items that your friends have found important enough to comment on or 'touch' in some way. Overnight my news feed went from something that looked pretty cold and lame to something that has tons of ‘warmth.'"

The changes, which merge the Highlights back into the News Feed, also allow for the Events box in the right panel to move higher on the page. That is great news to me because, frankly I never saw it with the previous design, so it has been months since I have known if it was someone's birthday today.

The Bad

The complete real-time stream still exists, but now it's called the Live Feed. While you are viewing the default News Feed, a bubble next to the Live Feed link keeps a running tally of the number of posts you're missing in the Live Feed.

You can click over and view the real-time stream. One problem, though, is that the Live Feed continues to refresh as new posts are entered. Each time that happens, the screen changes focus and you have to scroll to figure out where you were when your reading got interrupted. Facebook needs to figure out how to stream the updates without refreshing the screen or changing focus while you're reading.

The new News Feed also has created a problem. You have your network of friends on Facebook because those are the people you are interested in networking with. But, because Facebook displays the comments from your friends, as well as comments from their friends, you end up with comments from users you are not networked with and excess noise to read through.

Scoble points out: "Twitter, on the other hand, doesn't have comments. So you can't easily have a back-and-forth conversation about something like you can over on FriendFeed or Facebook. But it has a HUGE advantage: I only see items from people I invited to get on my home screen."

The Backlash

It seems inevitable that any change in the way Facebook displays information is met almost instantly with some sort of organized backlash. It is both ironic and apropos that users leverage the social network, using Fan Pages and Groups, to organize grassroots uprisings to complain about Facebook changes they don't like.

The backlash seems to boil down to users who simply don't like change. It doesn't matter if the change is good or bad, what matters is that it forces them to alter the way they use and interact with Facebook and they don't appreciate having a new learning curve. There are also some legitimate issues as well, though, like those I pointed out above.

The thing is, with more than 300 million users, you can't please everyone. Facebook says the changes were made based on feedback from users and possibly in response to the organized grassroots backlash from the last home page update. Many users like the new changes, but more than half a million have already joined the group CHANGE FACEBOOK BACK TO NORMAL!!

The changes made by Facebook make the default stream "cozier" and foster more interaction. The Live Feed is good, too, but displaying the posts that are getting the most attention within the network helps engage more users in the conversation or get more users to connect and participate rather than just reading the status updates as they stream (quickly) past.

I have bad news for those whose day gets ruined when Facebook doesn't look the same: It will continue to change. Everything does. Social networking in particular is a rapidly evolving medium, and entities like Facebook and Twitter are aggressively trying to stay ahead of the curve and define how people use social networking.

Neuromarketing Tells Advertisers: Keep It Simple


They are on the airwaves often. And every time they are, TV viewers' brains are silently but strongly protesting.

Advertisers, beware the risks you run when audio visual synchrony is absent from your spots.

So says NeuroFocus (www.NeuroFocus.com), the world's leading neuromarketing company and as such, experts in how consumers respond at the deep subconscious level of the mind to stimuli like advertising. Prompted by a spate of animated spots in which the voice track is out of synchronization with the mouth
movements of characters on screen, the company advises advertisers about the hazards involved.

"Your brain is 'wired' to expect synchronicity between what you see and what you hear," said Dr. A.K. Pradeep, founder and CEO of NeuroFocus. "When there is a disconnect between those two modalities, the brain generates what neuroscientists call a 'mismatch negativity,' a signal which indicates that the brain has to devote additional resources to try to resolve the discrepancy. It reflects distraction from the content and can lead to an overall drop in the effectiveness of the message that an advertiser is attempting to communicate. The brain essentially rebels against what is fundamentally abnormal and discordant to it--and your sales message gets caught in the crossfire."

Advertisers in the automotive, insurance, and lodging fields, among others, have run campaigns that feature animated characters who speak at considerable length on screen. NeuroFocus warns that despite how much consumers may say they like the advertising in surveys and focus groups, their brainwaves may tell a different story.

"We encounter this gap constantly," Dr. Pradeep said. "Neuroscience research shows that when you ask someone about how they felt or what they thought or what they remember about something, in the process of replying their brain actually changes the original information it recorded. In contrast, when you measure at the subconscious, precognitive level of the brain, you're accessing the original information immediately following its reception, before it can be distorted by all the factors that can influence articulated responses, from cultural and language differences to education levels and many more."

To codify the impact that aural visual synchrony can have, Dr. Robert T. Knight, one of the world's top-ranked neuroscientists, Director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley and Chief Science Advisor to NeuroFocus, states it this way:

"If the auditory component in a commercial is X, and the visual component is X, when you don't have synchrony between the two the best result you can get is basically 2X. When you do have synchrony though, you get a 'multiplier ' effect--you achieve 3X or more. This is what we describe as the power of sensory integration, and we see both effects in many of the brain measurement studies we've done over the years."

Neuroscience research has shown that, contrary to previous beliefs, the auditory cortex and the visual cortex in the brain interact early in the perceptual process, and one can prime the other. Recent scientific papers have
revealed that such integration occurs in the brain before even 200 milliseconds have elapsed, and that the more precise the synchrony, the faster that sensory integration can occur.

"This 'crossover' effect can actually enhance your perceptual experience, because it can prompt your brain to anticipate what you're about to hear based upon what you're seeing, and vice versa," said Dr. Michael Smith, a neuroscientist on NeuroFocus' staff noted for his pioneering work in the field. "The brain does have a preference, however; we believe more in what we see than in what we hear. We synthesize these two streams of stimuli to render the world consistent with our experiences and expectations. So when audio visual synchrony is 'off,' the brain has to work harder to reconcile the conflict."

Dr. Smith added another cautionary note: one for marketers who embark on neuromarketing research using inadequate technologies and methodologies.

"Both the auditory and the visual cortexes are located in lateral and posterior regions of the brain," Dr. Smith explained. "Unless you measure those areas with electrodes positioned to capture information generated in
them, you will be missing this vital data. Plus, the brain is a vastly complex series of neural networks. Simple, severely limited arrays of sensors that measure only at the forehead are incapable of capturing the massive flows of brainwave activity that occur between critical regions of the brain, and are incapable of detecting the synergistic effects of multisensory integration."

NeuroFocus points out that the potential negative effect on viewers' subconscious when audio visual synchrony is poor may be aggravated as the quality of home entertainment systems continues to improve.

"As gratifying as high definition TVs and digital surround sound systems are, they also pose a greater risk for advertisers who don't heed what neuroscience advises about synchrony," said Dr. Pradeep. "Consumers' enhanced abilities to see and hear more accurately than ever before means that marketing messages must be as coherent and consistent as possible with what the deep subconscious mind wants and expects to receive."

About NeuroFocus
NeuroFocus Inc. is the leader in bringing neuroscience knowledge and expertise to the worlds of advertising, marketing, product development and packaging, and entertainment. The company leverages Doctorate-level academic credentials in neuroscience and marketing from UC Berkeley, MIT, Harvard, and the Hebrew University combined with C-suite level business management and consulting experience.

NeuroFocus clients include Fortune 100 companies across dozens of categories, including automotive, consumer packaged goods, food and beverage, financial services, Internet, retail, and many more sectors. Entertainment category clients include major companies in the broadcast and cable television and  
motion picture industries.

The Nielsen Company is a strategic investor in NeuroFocus.

24 October 2009

Facebook Makes New Changes, Controversy Erupts

PC Mag

Facebook on Friday again revamped its homepage, getting rid of its "Highlights" section and instead creating separate tabs for the news feed and real-time events.

When users sign into their accounts, they can select to view either the "News feed" tab or the "Live Feed" tab. The news feed will feature items Facebook believes are of most value to you, while the live feed will list everything that is going on with your friends.

"News Feed picks stories that we think you'll enjoy based on a variety of factors including how many friends have liked and commented on it and how likely you are to interact with that story," Facebook wrote in a blog post.

If you're on the news feed tab, the live feed tab will keep track of how many new posts have been added, much like how the most recent news feed notified you when new posts were added.

Facebook also re-added things to the news feed, like when friends are tagged in photos, when friends become fans of pages or join a group, when they RSVP to events, and when they add friends.

Facebook did away with the Highlights section "to be sure you don't miss other interesting content." The social networking site first introduced the feature during a March re-design that saw a lot of user backlash, though most redesigns have had their critics. The real-time news feed was added in May.

"Some of you may ask why we are changing the home page again. Like you, we know it can be disruptive when things are moved around, but we hope that these changes make Facebook a more valuable experience for you," Facebook said. "We put a lot of thought into all the changes we make to the site and do a lot of testing before releasing anything."

21 October 2009

Ulitzer Named 'New Media' Partner For iStrategy 2010


SYS-CON-owned Ulitzer has been touted as the ‘Wikipedia Killer' with now over 7,000 authors online sharing news, views and industry trends on the sites' innovative blogging system. Magazines are managed and created on Ulitzer by visionaries of the digital media space, some of which brought the sites attention to the organizers of what is now the most anticipated New Media event to happen next year - The iStrategy 2010 in Berlin.

The iStrategy program is famed for educating the corporate elite in the relatively infant innovation of Social Media. Such visionaries as Michael Donnelly Group Director Worldwide Interactive Marketing at Coca-Cola, Michael Buck, Global Head , SMB Online Dell and Ralf Ahamer CMO, XING are sharing their successes at the conference in February next year, looking at; ever changing media consumption patterns and the rapid growth of mobile web, social networking, behavioral targeting, vodcasting, email marketing, viral marketing and how their companies have so brilliantly embraced online advancements to bring them closer to the consumer.

"We have over 150 CMOs confirmed for the Berlin Conference, they are all keen to learn what web 2.0 can do for their business, and we are delighted to welcome such a luminary within the digital media space as SYS-CON's Jeremy Geelan." Richard Owen - iStrategy Director.

A new ‘Internet' has been born that can flatten the market place if not managed correctly. New opportunities create greater challenges for any company to stay ahead. Thanks to sites like Ulitzer the corporate world has finally embraced online social media as a real competitive advantage, and the tier ones are now incorporating such initiatives in their 2010 business plans.

Yahoo Says Online Ad Market Improving

From Business Week

Results from the Web portal gave further evidence that the online ad slump is ending, though executives stopped short of calling a recovery

While no match for the resurgent third quarter reported by Google a few days earlier, Yahoo's (YHOO) results and its forecast for current-quarter sales beat analysts' expectations and gave further evidence that this year's swoon in Internet advertising may be ending.

Investors were pleased with the results, boosting Yahoo's shares almost 6% in extended trading after the market close. "It was a clean 'beat' quarter," says Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst at financial services firm Collins Stewart (CLST.L). "You see signs of stabilization, which is very positive."

Yahoo, in the midst of a sweeping reorganization and rebranding campaign under CEO Carol Bartz since she joined in January, emphasized that the online advertising market is stabilizing. But still-declining revenue signaled that a full-blown recovery has yet to materialize. "Ad spending is starting to free up, and we are a great value proposition for advertisers," Yahoo Chief Financial Officer Tim Morse said on a conference call discussing the results. Bartz did not participate in the call because she had a minor illness. However, she said in a statement that Yahoo had a "solid third quarter that signals our major businesses have stabilized."
Profit from Alibaba Sale

In the third quarter, Yahoo earned $186.1 million in net profit, or 13¢ a share. That's up from 4¢ a year ago. Gross revenue of $1.58 billion was down 12% from a year ago. Net revenue after commissions to advertising partners, a more closely watched metric, was $1.13 billion.

About 5¢ of the profit came from the sale of Yahoo's stake in China's Alibaba, but remaining results were still ahead of forecasts. The company was expected to earn 7¢ a share on gross revenues of $1.52 billion, or $1.12 billion after payments to advertising partners.

In particular, Yahoo saw relative strength in selling display ads on its own sites, such as its home page. Revenue from those so-called guaranteed ads, whose placement is planned in advance, grew at a mid-single-digit percentage rate. That was much better than "non-guaranteed" ads, which run on pages with less valuable audiences, such as e-mail pages. Those ads declined, partly thanks to a recent Yahoo drive to rid itself of lower-quality ads for weight loss and other schemes.
Losing Ground to Google

Although display ad revenues overall grew 2% from the second quarter, the second straight quarter of sequential growth, they were still down 8% from a year earlier. Moreover, Yahoo's search business fared much worse, with search revenue falling 19% from a year earlier. That means Yahoo continues to lose ground to Google SEO (GOOG), which saw growth accelerating in the third quarter.

Yahoo said it expects gross revenues of $1.6 billion to $1.7 billion in the fourth quarter. Operating income before depreciation, amortization, and stock-option costs is expected to be between $400 million and $450 million. Both of those are somewhat higher than Wall Street forecasts.

More than Google's results, Yahoo's may be indicative of the broader trend in online advertising, since Yahoo is a leader in the display ads that most Web sites depend on for revenue. Overall online ad revenue is expected to fall 2.9% this year but rebound to 5.9% growth next year, according to forecasts by market researcher eMarketer.

Eliminating Annoying Ads

There are some other glimmers of improvement in display ads. Prices for ads sold through middlemen known as ad networks have been rising each month this year, and are up 32% since the start of the year, according to PubMatic, which helps online publishers run the most lucrative ads. "The market has bottomed," says PubMatic CEO Rajeev Goel. "Marketers are returning to the fray."

Yet the display-ad market will not bounce back as quickly as the market for search ads, the mainstay for Google, says Bryan Weiner, CEO of digital ad agency 360i. While marketers can measure the effectiveness of search-related ads through several means, including whether they result in the sale of a product, they've been less successful in testing the effectiveness of display ads other than by counting clicks, widely acknowledged to be inadequate for brand-oriented display ads.

Yahoo SEO faces unique challenges as well. Even as it cuts some operations, it's making some costly investments in its many Web properties, as well as spending $100 million on a new branding campaign. It's also revamping its ad systems to eliminate annoying ads as well as ads advertisers pay to appear in search results. Those and other changes are expected to cost Yahoo about $60 million in revenue a quarter but eventually pay off in the form of more satisfied users and advertisers.
Losing Search Share

Still, all that means lower sales and higher costs in the short term. Meantime, a deal announced July 28 to let Microsoft (MSFT) handle Yahoo's search operations likely will take until early next year to be approved by regulators. The companies estimated the deal would boost Yahoo's operating profit by $500 million annually, but it might take Yahoo a couple of years after the deal closes to reap that benefit.

Despite Yahoo's struggles since it rejected several Microsoft buyout and search deal proposals last year, its stock has risen 31%. But that's just under the Nasdaq's 32% rise—and Yahoo has underperformed the index even more than that in the nearly three months since it finally reached a search deal with Microsoft. Investors were disappointed that Bartz didn't craft a more lucrative deal with Microsoft, which did not include the multimillion-dollar up-front payment many had expected.

Moreover, Yahoo has continued to lose search share since then. Share fell by half a percentage point, to 18.8%, in September, while Google and Microsoft's Bing gained, according to market researcher comScore (SCOR). That's why some investors remain bearish. "We don't think Carol Bartz has a coherent plan for Yahoo in search," says Jeff Donlon, managing director of technology research for asset manager Manning & Napier, which holds shares in Google and Microsoft but not Yahoo.
Hoping for a Faster Turnaround

Analysts, however, have turned moderately more positive on the stock of late, with 14 recommending a buy, 14 advising a hold, and only one calling for a sell, according to FactSet (FDS). Wall Street is hoping Bartz's cost-cutting and strategic focus will set up Yahoo for a faster turnaround as marketers open up their wallets starting in the fourth quarter. And if the Microsoft deal passes regulatory muster, Yahoo will not only reduce its search costs but start to get significant revenue from Redmond.

20 October 2009

Chicago Ad Firm Cramer-Krasselt Scores Big Wth Porsche TV Spot

Chicago Sun-Times

The family of Porsche models comes together 
in a desert setting to welcome the new Panamera in a 
television spot from Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago

Mention the words "cars" and "advertising" in the same breath, and most people's eyes start to glaze over fast. Cars rarely are the most fascinating or innovative category in the advertising world, though the Modernista shop in Boston did try to do some interesting things with the Cadillac brand. But now that account is in review, and, probably wisely, Modernista won't be pitching to retain it. Welcome to the advertising world circa 2009, where there's little rhyme or reason for much of what happens.

But while Cadillac starts to sort out where it wants to go with its advertising, we're happy to report that Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago has developed a rather nifty campaign to introduce Porsche's new Panamera, the very-high-end car manufacturer's first four-door sports car. The campaign's theme line is "Welcome to the Family," a reference to a long line of Porsche models introduced over the course of 60 years the German carmaker has been in business.

When C-K announced a couple of years ago that it had won the Porsche business, some observers believed the high-gloss account's arrival in Chicago would mark the start of a major turnaround in the local ad industry and the addition of more such accounts at agencies all over town. Things, of course, haven't quite worked out that way. And frankly, some of C-K's early, rather perfunctory-looking Porsche work didn't suggest the agency was exactly going to catapult car advertising to new heights or that the shop was singlehandedly going to turn around Chicago's entire ad industry.

But now comes the introductory television commercial for the "Welcome to the Family" campaign, and it's definitely a cut above C-K's previous Porsche work. Called "Family Tree," the debut spot was filmed in a dramatic desert setting, where what looks to be nearly the entire family of Porsche models -- including the 917 model driven by Steve McQueen in the movie "Le Mans" -- have come together to welcome the four-door Panamera into the fold.

With the help of some razor-sharp editing, the commercial tracks the Porsches racing across the flat terrain, while the voiceover explains Porsche's reason for being -- suggesting that every model introduced has answered a dream of one sort or another. That insight serves as the segue to welcome the Panamera into the mix. As the forceful voiceover talent describes the Panamera as another bold line on the Porsche family tree, we see an illustrative overhead shot of the cars creating a tree and its branches on the desert floor.

Altogether, this is a beautifully shot, edited and written commercial, though we would have preferred that the line of copy "the first true sports car for four" include the word "passengers" just for clarity's sake.

The "Family Tree" spot has a great deal of spit, polish and impact, but the new print work for the Panamera introduction isn't quite so spiffy. There's some exceedingly slick and rhythmic writing in the executions, to be sure, but C-K has chosen to include several images of design details from Porsches of the past that do tend to create a cluttered look that isn't in keeping with the sleek Porsche aesthetic this campaign otherwise so effectively underscores.

19 October 2009

Beezag - The Reinvention of Advertising


Beezag® has officially launched its NEW exclusive invite-only online and mobile advertising platform that is revolutionizing the world of advertising. Beezag benefits both the "Beezagger" (user) and the advertiser by providing the user with monetary returns while giving advertisers a direct and targeted medium to interact with the most attractive segment of the Web 2.0 and mobile market, educated adults ages 18-24, which tallies 72 million strong in the U.S.

"Our strategic vision at Beezag is to capitalize on an opportunity to create digital advertising distribution that works in today's environment, where traditional advertising models are becoming more fragmented by the changes in technology and consumer behavior," said Richard Smullen, Co-Founder of Beezag.

Beezag is the brainchild of entrepreneurs Richard Smullen and Laurent Alhadeff (the young founders behind South African media, technology and fashion market leader SouthWinston Investments). They have created an impressive team of business-savvy technologists, including six-year Google veteran Brian Dick to manage worldwide revenue; Steven Spencer, the former-Upoc/Dada Entertainment(TM) CEO/CTO as Beezag's CTO; and Ex-Forbes Digital VP Nicholas Ricci as the Beezag USA Sales VP.

Beezag's target audience is tech-savvy 18 to 24-year-olds, typically college students, who know every trick to avoid ads. Knowing that this demographic constantly needs extra spending money, Beezag has developed its invite-only service in which members login and watch a full ad from start to finish. Beezag then rewards them with discounts and cash which can be paid into accounts like iTunes, PayPal(TM), their favorite charity or even their personal bank account.

Advertisers see Beezag as the solution to technology like DVR and online "banner-blindness," which is the root cause of this massive fragmentation that we are experiencing.

Through Beezag's Proprietary Profiling Engine, Beezag ensures delivery of a brand's full message to loyal, hand-raising customers, not prospects. When Beezaggers login to view ads (online, on Facebook or on their mobile phones), they discuss the specific brands/products they use (and are looking for) - whether it's the coffee they drink, sports team they follow or airline of choice. The secret behind Beezag is its patent-pending technology, which guarantees a complete view of each commercial, and if Beezaggers don't absorb the ad in its entirety, the advertiser does not pay and the user does not earn. 

Within a study issued by the DVR Research Institute in 2008, "77 percent of agency higher-ups said that DVR usage will prove to be the greatest challenge to the current ad model," (Ad Week, June 2009). Within this traditional advertising model, advertisers pay hundreds of billions of dollars for consumers' attention, but with new technology like the DVR, statistics are showing that "90 percent 'always/almost always' fast forward through commercials," (2008 Starcom USA-Tivo custom study). Advertisers see Beezag as the solution to technology like DVR and online "banner-blindness," which is the root cause of this massive fragmentation that we are experiencing.

Beezag provides a new online and mobile model for advertisers to directly target these consumers. The Beezag guarantee is that advertiser dollars are going towards ads that will be 100 percent viewed - start to finish.

Beezag is the game-changer in the advertising industry and is changing the way  consumers interact with brands and view ads so that instead of avoiding them, they will want more.

Through digital and affiliate agencies, some of the country's biggest brands have joined Beezag as advertisers. Two of the most recent include Dr. Pepper and Dentyne.

About Beezag:
Beezag is a privately funded company headquartered in New York City's bustling Chelsea neighborhood. Its founders had an epiphany when they set out to create a revolutionary philosophy for the only effective way to advertise in this info-laden age: through the targeted delivery of customized video ads to vetted and invited individuals in real time through any Internet-capable device.

17 October 2009

MySpace Strives To Recapture Its Focus On Music, Entertainment

From the Wall Street Journal

A new executive team at MySpace is trying to reignite the brand by focusing on areas like music, videos and games as users abandon the social-networking site for cooler destinations.

MySpace, which is holding a conference this week for its global ad-sales staff, needs to lure visitors back and kick-start advertising revenue, ad executives say. Research firm eMarketer estimates U.S. ad spending on the site will be $495 million this year, down 15% from $585 million in 2008.

The basic challenge is similar to the one facing big Internet companies, such as Time Warner's AOL and Yahoo, that are under pressure to reinvent themselves for fickle audiences.

"I've been in the Internet business for 15 years. There's always the new, new thing," says Jason Hirschhorn, the company's chief product officer. "Everybody plateaus at some point. The ones that remain remain relevant with their user base."

In a strategy shift, MySpace is striving to become an online hangout for people to connect with friends over entertainment content, whether it's the new Pearl Jam album, blogs from celebrities like British pop singer Lily Allen or a karaoke contest for the Fox musical comedy "Glee."

MySpace says ramping up its technology initiatives to create new products that let users share such content with friends is an essential part of its strategy.

MySpace's online-hangout push marks an effort to focus its offerings and differentiate itself from rival Facebook. As an entertainment site, MySpace would compete for ad dollars with a broader group of Web sites, including online video sites like Google's YouTube and Hulu, a joint venture of General Electric's NBC Universal, News Corp. and Walt Disney. It also would compete against music sites like Pandora and portals like AOL, which is also trying to reinvent itself with a push to create content.

"This is not an all-things-for-everybody portal," Mr. Hirschhorn says. "This is a social entertainment experience."

Fox and MySpace are owned by News Corp., which also owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

To take its new pitch to Madison Avenue, MySpace has hired former MTV executive Nada Stirratt as chief revenue officer, responsible for overseeing global ad sales. Ms. Stirratt, 44 years old, most recently worked as executive vice president of digital ad sales at Viacom's MTV Networks.

MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta, who was hired nearly six months ago to revive the site and has since turned over almost the entire executive suite, introduced Ms. Stirratt to staff this week at the sales conference, during which executives outlined the company's strategy.

Although MySpace drew an audience of 64.2 million unique U.S. visitors in August, that figure is down 15% from the same period a year earlier, according to comScore. Facebook drew 92.2 million unique U.S. visitors in August, more than double the number a year earlier.

Like her rivals, Ms. Stirratt will have to address broader, looming questions about the viability of social-networking sites as a place for advertising.

Marketing via social-networking sites isn't simply about buying ads on a page. It requires that marketers interact with users on the sites, says Greg Smith, chief operating officer at Neo@Ogilvy, a digital ad agency owned by WPP. "It requires a whole new way of thinking," he says.

MySpace declined to make Ms. Stirratt available to comment.

Ms. Stirratt, who earlier in her career directed sales at Internet-ad company Advertising.com, has a reputation on Madison Avenue as a savvy businesswoman who understands the technical side of the Internet business but also knows how to build creative ad sponsorships that attract dollars from big brand advertisers.

So far, most of the developments under the new MySpace management team have focused on cleaning up the underlying technology of the site and making it easier for visitors to use. Users previously couldn't upload a photo to blog posts, for instance.

MySpace also is reconfiguring search technologies for the site and has removed features that didn't fit into its new strategy, including weather, jobs and classifieds. In the past few months, it has released features including a fresh homepage for its music site and a feature that connects to Twitter, the microblog site.

Further developments are likely to center on building technologies that let users more easily share entertainment.

Ad executives say that MySpace Music has registered some success, drawing 24.8 million unique U.S. visitors in September, up 24% from a year earlier, but they say they have yet to see major changes across the board for MySpace.

MySpace lost its way over the years as it got caught up in a race with Facebook, launched disparate initiatives and let technology and new-product developments lag, ad executives say.

Those missteps cost MySpace much of its buzz on Madison Avenue and its organic search marketing, says Shiv Singh, vice president and global social-media head at Razorfish, the digital-ad agency owned by Publicis Groupe.

"Marketers want to align their brands with the newest and the greatest. Currently, that is Facebook and Twitter," Mr. Singh says.

"Hardly a day goes by without a client asking me, 'What should I do with Facebook?' I don't get anywhere near as many questions about MySpace," he adds.

"They are not hiding from the challenges," says Doug Neil, senior vice president of digital marketing at GE's Universal Pictures, which recently bought promotions on MySpace for its films "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" and "Couples Retreat." He adds: "But can they re-steer the ship?"

16 October 2009

Ohio TV Tax Flawed, Say Legal Scholars


Sixteen of the nation's top constitutional law scholars, including the Honorable Kenneth Starr, former U.S. Solicitor General and Washington D.C. Circuit Court Judge, and Erwin Chemerinski, the author of a leading constitutional law treatise, believe that an Ohio Court of Appeals ruling upholding a satellite TV tax would dramatically erode Constitutional protections from discriminatory state regulation.

In a "friend of the court" brief filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, the scholars firmly supported DIRECTV`s and DISH Network`s position that Ohio's discriminatory tax treatment of satellite TV violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States. Each of the scholars has a particular expertise in the Commerce Clause - a provision of the Constitution designed to foster a vibrant national economy by prohibiting states from enacting protectionist measures that discriminate against interstate commerce.

Earlier this year, an intermediate Ohio appeals court ruled that a 5.5 percent state tax, which does not apply to consumers who choose cable TV service, does not violate the federal Constitution, overturning a 2007 ruling by the Ohio Court of Common Pleas that struck down the discriminatory tax as unconstitutional.

The scholars described the rule the Court of Appeals followed as "newly minted," and that it "unmoors the dormant Commerce Clause from its traditional roots, runs contrary to a multitude of Supreme Court cases, dramatically narrows the scope of the dormant Commerce Clause`s prohibition, and clears the way for the state to impose a variety of new state taxes that would not have passed muster under traditional dormant Commerce Clause principles."

Among those who also signed the brief, authored by former Ohio Solicitor Douglas Cole, are Norman Williams and Brannon Denning, two of the most prolific writers on Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

In a joint statement, the companies said, "The brief makes absolutely clear that the analysis adopted by the Court of Appeals in rejecting our claims was not only wrong, but if upheld, would dramatically erode the protections from discriminatory state regulation that the Constitution provides and on which our economy depends. We are pleased to have their support and confident that the Court will appreciate and consider the viewpoints of this distinguished group of scholars in its deliberations." 

Sirius XM: Looking Back 5 Years

From the Motley Fool

Five years may not seem like much when compared to the nearly 25 years that Bob Edwards served as a morning-show host on National Public Radio. But a lot has changed for Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI) since he arrived.

Edwards was a pioneer. He migrated from terrestrial radio before bigger media icons Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey, and Martha Stewart inked their big satellite-radio deals. Now Sirius is celebrating the fifth anniversary of Bob Edwards' arrival on satellite radio this month. The distinguished radio newsman joined XM shortly after it hit the 2-million-member milestone. Sirius was considerably smaller at the time. In fact, Sirius and XM together accounted for just 3 million subscribers.

Times have certainly changed. Even though this has been a rough year for subscriber acquisition and retention rates, Sirius XM still manages to claim 18.4 million subscribers. It's hard to think of any other premium subscriber-based industry that has grown sixfold over the past five years. Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) have broader audiences, but they definitely weren't as small as Sirius XM was in 2004.

Today's subscribers are also paying more for access, and that's important when you consider the scalability of the satellite-radio model and Sirius XM's need to beef up margins to command the market's respect.

After all, margins and profitability are crucial for any business. Five years ago, Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) had 2.2 million subscribers. Its user base has grown quickly, but it's a far cry from Sirius XM's audience. One of the reasons Netflix is a market darling while Sirius XM trades at a fraction of its 2004 price is that a lack of cash flow has forced Sirius XM into printing new shares to keep creditors away.

Now that Sirius XM has gotten its financial act in order, its hope is that the stock gains that failed to materialize during its subscriber-growth heyday can show up and help create a positive-cash-flow story. It would be ironic to see Sirius XM's stock rise as its user base flattens out or possibly even declines, but that's what the market needs to see before it buys into the satellite-radio model.

Enjoy the birthday cake, Edwards. Let's see how rich dessert tastes in five more years.

15 October 2009

Sirius XM: Beam Me Up, SkyDock

From Sirius Buzz

The XM SkyDock App is ready for download on iTunes. SkyDock, which turns an iPhone or iPod Touch into a virtual satellite radio receiver when docked, has been highly anticipated for some time. The new app represents the second official full satellite radio app for Sirius XM on iTunes. Apps for specific content have been produced in the past.

The company smartly calls the new app “XM SkyDock”. This should avoid customer confusion, and ensure that potential subscribers download the proper app when they are seeking out the great content offered by Sirius XM.

Satellite Radio subscribers hoping to get the most value and content should opt for the “Best of Sirius” on their subscription, thus enabling all that XM has to offer PLUS Howard Stern, and the NFL. With Baseball in the playoffs, and football ramping up, this is perhaps the best sports content solution available to consumers.

Interestingly, this app, combined with the many other apps and features represented on an iPhone could become a one stop fits all solution even for those with a factory installed satellite radio receiver in their car. No longer is your subscription tied to the dashboard, or a portable device that serves only one purpose.

The XM SkyDock app will not work without attaching a subscription to a SkyDock. SkyDocks are now available through various retailers such as TSS-Radio. sers as a free download from the iTunes store.

California to Ban Energy-Guzzling . . . TV's?

From the L.A. Times

Reporting from Sacramento - The influential lobby group Consumer Electronics Assn. is fighting what appears to be a losing battle to dissuade California regulators from passing the nation's first ban on energy-hungry big-screen televisions.

On Tuesday, executives and consultants for the Arlington, Va., trade group asked members of the California Energy Commission to instead let consumers use their wallets to decide whether they want to buy the most energy-saving new models of liquid-crystal display and plasma high-definition TVs.

"Voluntary efforts are succeeding without regulations," said Doug Johnson, the association's senior director for technology policy. Too much government interference could hamstring industry innovation and prove expensive to manufacturers and consumers, he warned.

But those pleas didn't appear to elicit much support from commissioners at a public hearing on the proposed rules that would set maximum energy-consumption standards for televisions to be phased in over two years beginning in January 2011. A vote could come as early as Nov. 4.

The association's views weren't shared by everyone in the TV business. Representatives of some TV makers, including top-seller Vizio Inc. of Irvine, said they would have little trouble complying with tighter state standards without substantially increasing prices.
Switching to more-efficient TVs could have an estimated net benefit to the state of $8.1 billion, the commission staff reported.

"We're comfortable with our ability to meet the proposed levels and implementation dates," said Kenneth R. Lowe, Vizio's co-founder and vice president.

Last month, the commission formally unveiled its proposal to require manufacturers to limit television energy consumption in a way that has been done with refrigerators, air conditioners and dozens of other products since the 1970s.

"We would not propose TV efficiency standards if we thought there was any evidence in the record that they will hurt the economy," said Commissioner Julia Levin, who has been in charge of the two-year rule-making procedure. "This will actually save consumers money and help the California economy grow and create new clean, sustainable jobs."

Tightening efficiency ratings by using new technology and materials should result in "zero increase in cost to consumers," said Harinder Singh, an Energy Commission staffer on the TV regulation project.

California's estimated 35 million TVs and related electronic devices account for about 10% of all household electricity consumption, the Energy Commission staff reported. But manufacturers quickly are coming up with new technologies that are making even 50-inch-screen models much more economical to operate.

New features, such as light-emitting diodes that consume tiny amounts of power, special reflective films and sensors that automatically adjust TV brightness to a room's viewing conditions, are driving down electricity consumption, experts said.

The payoff could be big for TV owners, said Ken Rider, a commission staff engineer. Average first-year savings from reduced electricity use would be an estimated $30 per set and $912 million statewide, he said.

If all TVs met state standards, Rider added, California could avoid the $600-million cost of building a natural-gas-fired power plant. Switching to more-efficient TVs could have an estimated net benefit to the state of $8.1 billion, the commission staff reported.

Consumer Electronics Assn. officials disputed that figure, arguing that it was based on out-of-date numbers that fail to account for recent industry innovations. "With voluntary compliance, manufacturers can meet the targets over time, managing the cost impact, yet not in any way impeding innovation," said Seth Greenstein, an association consultant.

CBS Enters 42nd Year Of '60 Minutes'

From L.A. Times

As the news show begins its 42nd season (the first since the passing of creator Don Hewitt), it's hot again. They're still using the same recipe, but now there are more cooks in the kitchen.

"60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager, left, goes over a story with
correspondent Scott Pelley.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Change creeps slowly through the ninth-floor newsroom of the West 57th Street high-rise that houses "60 Minutes," CBS' storied Sunday evening newsmagazine. For decades, the office assignments on Correspondent's Row, a bank of glass-walled rooms facing the Hudson River, were sacrosanct, with the biggest space next to the executive producer belonging to Mike Wallace.

But Wallace's office has been largely empty since the 91-year-old became correspondent emeritus three years ago. Last month, executive producer Jeff Fager quietly decided that it was time for Steve Kroft, the longest serving of the full-time correspondents, to inherit the space.

"This is hallowed ground," said Kroft on a recent afternoon, still surrounded by boxes, the walls empty save for a row of gleaming Emmys lining a high shelf.

What may seem like minor office shuffling is freighted with the symbolism of a generational shift at "60 Minutes," which begins its 42nd season tonight. While Fager stresses that the broadcast is an ensemble effort, he acknowledged that Kroft, a 64-year-old, squared-jawed reporter who got his start sending dispatches from Vietnam, emerged in the last year as the face of the program, in part because of his reports on the financial crisis and his much-watched interviews with candidate and President Obama. "I don't think anyone can tell a story better," Fager said.

Kroft's rising profile is not the only change on the broadcast, the most-watched news program on TV and arguably the only one that still commands a mass audience on a regular basis. For all of its endurance, "60 Minutes" has quietly entered a transitional period. This will be the first season without creator Don Hewitt, who passed away last month at age 86 and had remained a lively presence in the newsroom, even after his retirement in 2004.

And the ranks of correspondents have grown with a batch of younger contributors, bringing the number of reporters to 10 -- almost the size of a football team. The influx troubles the program's veterans, who fret that the program's identity is being blurred.

"I think that the public gets a little confused sometimes," said correspondent Lesley Stahl, sitting in her tidy office down the hall from Kroft.

That's only amped up the famously intense competition among the staff. "We are all trying to find the most compelling stories on Earth, and I think that's something that drives the energy of the broadcast," said correspondent Scott Pelley.

The addition of new contributors is an acknowledgment that there's a limit to "60 Minutes' " reach. For the last decade, the median age of viewers has hovered around 60. (That's a year younger than that of the three evening newscasts, but several years older than other network newsmagazines, according to Nielsen.) One of the show's most recognizable figures is 91-year-old essayist Andy Rooney.

"The cultivation of this new cast of characters is an attempt to lure a younger audience," said Richard Campbell, director of Miami University's journalism program and the author of "60 Minutes and the News: A Mythology for Middle America." The risk, he added, is a dilution of the brand once emblematized by the likes of Wallace and the late Ed Bradley.

The show has long been CBS News' most prestigious property, and last season it managed a rare feat, reversing a nearly decade-long trend of ratings declines. The audience grew to an average of 14.3 million people, up 10% from the year before and the biggest in seven years. The increase came as most other newscasts lost audience, including both "CBS Evening News" and ABC's "World News." Viewers came not only for Kroft's Obama interviews but Katie Couric's exclusive with Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger and Pelley's sit-down with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The boost in ratings was particularly sweet for a program that has stayed true to the format that Hewitt hit on four decades ago: a weekly menu of meaty interviews, exhaustive investigative pieces and whimsical features. One of the few big changes was last season's conversion to high definition. In a modern flourish, producers also added a boom camera in the studio that zooms in on the correspondents as they introduce their pieces, seated on a stool instead of a chair. "Whatever the ethos of this broadcast was, it still is, and I think that's the most important thing," said 77-year-old correspondent Morley Safer, who joined the program in 1970, puffing on a cigarette behind his desk.

Competitors such as NBC's "Dateline" and ABC's "20/20," originally modeled after "60 Minutes," now largely pursue crime stories and celebrity interviews. (ABC recently trumpeted Barbara Walters' sit-down with La Toya Jackson.) They average about half the audience of "60 Minutes."

Not all its competitors enjoy the consistent time slot or the lift "60 Minutes" gets from its NFL game lead-in. But above all, it's the program's fervent embrace of hard news that has made it singular -- and the most sought-after platform in television.

Case in point: In early February, weeks after Obama took office, the White House told "60 Minutes" that the president might be available for another sit-down with Kroft. But producers didn't pursue it, because the broadcast already had a big story for that Sunday: Couric's exclusive with Sullenberger. (Kroft interviewed Obama a month later.)

Now the pressure is on "60 Minutes" to keep delivering those kind of must-watch hours, without the benefit of a historic presidential election. "More than ever, people are looking for us to have a big story on Sunday," Fager said. "With that, you create certain expectations."

On a recent cloudy afternoon, Fager sat in his corner office, anxiously mulling which pieces should be featured in the season-premiere episode. The no-nonsense producer with closely cropped hair scanned a run-down that included a story by Kroft about the earning potential of dead celebrities. For all the program's success last season, he worries about it losing its perch.

"I fear it all the time," he said. "I know that we have a huge amount of support from CBS, but you can't ever take that for granted. We're in the business of drawing audience. You're only as good as your next broadcast."

He was leaning toward leading with an exclusive with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, whose classified assessment about the need for more troops was recently leaked. The piece is a classic "60 Minutes" get: an in-depth profile with a powerful figure, timed for maximum impact. (The McChrystal interview is scheduled for tonight, along with Kroft's "Working Stiffs" story and Safer's interview with Irving Picard, the government-appointed liquidator of Bernard Madoff's assets.)

Fager, who worked as a producer for Kroft and Safer before serving as executive producer of "CBS Evening News" and "60 Minutes II," said he plans to make Afghanistan a major focus on the program this season, eager to challenge the conventional wisdom that the public has tired of the war. Several correspondents spent time in the battlefield this summer, but the McChrystal piece was done by David Martin, the network's national security correspondent, part of Fager's effort to broaden the number of faces on the program by drawing from the entire news division. .

This season, he brought aboard chief national correspondent Byron Pitts, who joins chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper as the program's new generation of contributors. (Pitts is 48, Logan is 38 and Cooper is 42.) "They add a spark to the broadcast," Fager said. "And it's nice to have someone in every age group. That's important -- we have to be thinking about what's happening in the years to come."

Couric, 52, and PBS interviewer Charlie Rose, 67, also contribute to the show, along with the program's regular correspondents: Kroft, Stahl, Pelley, Safer and Bob Simon. (Couric would like to do five or six pieces a year, but Fager said her busy schedule as anchor of "CBS Evening News" makes it difficult. On a white board outside his office listing the staff's current story assignments, she was down for just three.)

Some are unsettled by the burgeoning ranks.

"I think you can go too far in the variety of people," Safer said. "I think to some extent, not just the die-hards, the people who view it pretty often, like the comfort of knowing the people who are reporting."

Kroft was blunter. "I don't like it," he said. "I think the show ought to have a set cast."

Pitts, the newest arrival, said he understands that anxiety. "It seems to me that part of the historic greatness of '60 Minutes' was you have that core of outstanding journalists that the American people can rely on and depend on, and I think that formula has been successful," he said. "But just like every great news organization, you need some arms in the bullpen."

Fager said he's not concerned that the broadcast is overbooked, noting that about 80% of the 100 stories produced each season are by the five main correspondents. Still, the expanded staff has intensified the already-fierce competition to get on the air. Such battles could descend into shouting matches during Hewitt's time; nowadays, the atmosphere is less volatile. The mood in the 75-person newsroom is one of brisk efficiency. "There's very, very little blood," Pelley said. "It's a friendly competition, but each and every one of us really likes to win."

Stahl said she's relieved that the internal jockeying is no longer accompanied by "screaming and yelling" that marked Hewitt's tenure. "Jeff runs a calmer shop," she said, adding that he "is doing a sensational job. It's never easy to come after the genius."

That's not to say Hewitt isn't missed. Last season, he made a point of popping in the office every Monday to congratulate the staff on the previous night's broadcast. "There really is a little bit of him in all of us," said Fager. "I think the reason we're able to maintain our consistency is because he taught us so well."

14 October 2009

New Advertising Study: Custom Content And New Media King In 2010


A new study released today by King Fish Media finds that a structural change in the world of media is driving marketers to rethink the business of reaching customers and prospects. The
King Fish Media 2009 Survey on Marketing, Media and Measurement, conducted in partnership with HubSpot, Junta42 and the Upshot Institute, reveals that where traditional advertising was once a foregone conclusion and a focal point of all marketing efforts, companies are now revising old formulas and creating new ones.

Above all, their ability to use new media channels to reach audiences directly and to measure the value of their response and interaction is advancing a trend: companies are abandoning other's media platforms in favor of creating their own original channels and content for natural website optimization.

"Marketers have been aware of the effectiveness of building relationships and trust with content since long before the Internet," said Gordon Plutsky, Director of Marketing and Research, King Fish. "Technological change has rapidly increased media channel options and the patterns of information consumption among consumers. More and more marketers are abandoning old media -- and traditional advertising -- to venture out on their own with original content."

Among the key findings of the King Fish Media 2009 Survey on Marketing, Media and Measurement:

-- 86% of respondents' companies are currently creating or plan to create original content for their customers and prospects in the coming year.
-- 81% believe that brands and companies can create content that is as engaging and informative as content created by media companies.
-- 74% feel that original content and media are most effective for generating marketing ROI.
-- 70% are spending more today to reach customers and prospects directly with branded content than they did three years ago.


The survey was created by King Fish Media and hosted online from June 15, 2009 to August 25, 2009. King Fish Media and its three co-sponsors -- Hubspot, Junta42 and the Upshot Institute -- attracted participants through a number of different media, including newsletter blasts, multiple blog posts, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and personal email invitations. The survey was completed by 230 respondents primarily split between corporate management and marketing/sales management.

Peter Griffin: Spokescartoon For Windows 7

Story from AdAge

To sell people on the merits of its latest operating system, Windows 7, Microsoft has employed good old-fashioned PR and the saccharine sweetness of young Kylie. Now it's counting on Hollywood for a big push.

The software giant has signed a deal with Fox to sponsor a variety show produced by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, voice of the family guy himself, Peter Griffin, and actress Alex Borstein, who plays wife Lois Griffin. The show will air Nov. 8 without commercial interruption -- because it will instead feature Windows-branded programming throughout the program.

The branded-entertainment deal is a collaboration between Microsoft, the brand-friendly Mr. MacFarlane and Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, the ad agency responsible for the multimillion-dollar worldwide Windows 7 push. Microsoft's media agency, Universal McCann, was also involved in brokering the deal. Mr. MacFarlane and Crispin have worked together before on "Cavalcade of Comedy," Mr. MacFarlane's online-video series that ran on YouTube and Google's AdSense network and was sponsored by Crispin client Burger King.

The Microsoft-sponsored variety show, whose working title is "Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show," is a mix of live-action "Family Guy" musical performances, animated shorts and celebrity guest appearances, and is part of an all-Seth MacFarlane night on Fox. The software company wouldn't elaborate on what exactly the Microsoft integrations would look like or possible scenarios in which Windows 7 could play a starring role, but said Crispin's copywriter and art director on the Windows campaign were working closely with Mr. MacFarlane and Ms. Borstein.

"You'll see us deeply integrated into the content ... you'll hear a lot about how Windows 7 can help you simplify your PC -- it's simple, fast and easy to use," said Gayle Troberman, general manager of consumer engagement and advertising at Microsoft. She went on: "Think about metaphors and examples we might use, talking about how simple things are. We'll be evoking the cast of 'Family Guy' in some interesting ways that integrate the product messages."

Ms. Troberman, who headed branded entertainment at Microsoft's MSN before assuming her current post, said Microsoft turned to Hollywood for content integration and programming for the launch of the search engine Bing and saw "some phenomenal results," which is why it's employing the same strategy for Windows 7. Specifically, she said, they noticed that branded entertainment helped amplify traditional-media buys.

"Consumers exposed to both branded entertainment and advertising have more positive reactions," she said. Some of the branded-entertainment elements will extend to the web as well. But working an operating system into content isn't as easy as, say, talking about an energy drink or even a search engine.

"As much as [an operating system is] a product you interact with every day, it's not something most people can put a definition around," she said. "What we've found is seeing is really believing. ... That's a lot of what you'll see us do in the advertising and the branded integration ... give people a chance to see the product and interact with the product."

The MacFarlane sponsorship is part of a broader deal with the News corp.-owned network through its Fox ONE multiplatform sales group and also includes 20th Century Fox Television, Fox Licensing and Merchandising, Fox Sports, FX, Fox Sports on MSN and Hulu. Another part of the Fox deal has Microsoft working with its licensing division for a 12-week college tour that will let students try out Windows 7 and receive custom content, such as outdoor movie nights hosted by "Family Guy" characters Stewie and Brian.

The push around Windows 7, which officially launches October 22, has largely fueled by TV and will also lean heavily on digital. So far, the reaction to the marketing has been mixed. It's been boosted by largely positive reviews in the marketplace, to which Microsoft has smartly been calling people's attention in TV spots. But a five-minute web video promoting in-house, Tupperware-style Windows 7 launch parties has for the past couple weeks been the butt of many a joke, even making it onto Ad Age's Viral Video Chart twice.

Ms. Troberman wouldn't comment on the size of the deal but said the overall Windows 7 push is one of the "largest consumer-advertising investments the company has made."

Microsoft Sells Razorfish

From eWeek

Microsoft has finalized the sale of its Razorfish digital-advertising subsidiary to French advertising company Publicis Groupe SA. Under the terms of the closing, announced on Oct. 14, Publicis Groupe will pay Microsoft some $286.8 million and 6.5 million shares of stock.

In return, Microsoft will gain a 3.3 percent stake in Publicis Groupe.

According to a joint statement released on the Publicis Groupe Website, Razorfish “is the second largest interactive advertising agency (Ad Age) in the U.S. with approximately FY June 30, 2009 revenue of $380 million.” Previous clients have included Nortel, Disney, McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz.

First acquired by Microsoft as part of its $6 billion takeover of aQuantive in 2007, Razorfish was originally intended to bolster Redmond’s efforts in building a substantive online advertising platform. Other advertising and publishing tools acquired as part of the aQuantive deal included DrivePM, which matched ad campaigns to publisher inventory.

However, Microsoft’s search-and-advertising partnership with Yahoo, which will see the latter take over worldwide search-ad sales for both companies, may have transformed Razorfish into something of a corporate misfit. On Aug. 9, Microsoft announced that it would sell the division to Publicis Groupe for $530 million in cash and stock.

As originally laid out, that deal will give Microsoft access to Publicis Groupe clients and offer them display and search advertising "on favorable terms" for a five-year period.

"We are grateful for the contributions that Razorfish has made to our online advertising business since joining the company," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in an August statement announcing the deal. "We look forward to continuing to work with Razorfish as one of our agencies."

The original aQuantive deal came during a period in which Microsoft predicted it would purchase around 20 companies—ranging in size from $50 million to $1 billion—over a five-year period. The original hope was that Microsoft would be able to craft an advertising platform that would provide the company with a substantial revenue stream.

However, since 2007, a global economic recession and accompanying slump in PC sales has forced Microsoft to consolidate its holdings and re-focus its corporate strategy around certain key software lines, including the upcoming Windows 7 and Office 2010.