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June 20 2013

14:13

The New York Times adds a meter to mobile apps

Since 2011, the Times’ web paywall and app paywall have functioned differently. The website gave nonsubscribers a maximum number of articles per month; its apps set aside a subset of top stories that were free to all, but put everything else beyond reach.

The newspaper just announced it would be normalizing that divide, creating a meter for readers of the company’s mobile applications. Starting June 27, nonsubscribers will be able to read three articles per day through the app before being prompted to sign up for a subscription. After that, they’ll still get to browse headlines and article summaries. Videos will remain free inside the app, as Denise Warren, the Times executive vice president of the digital products and services group, previously told the Lab in April.

This spring, Times CEO Mark Thompson promised the company would be introducing a new suite of digital products to broaden its base of readers. But the Times’ mobile meter doesn’t come at a new price point. For an app-centric reader, the cheapest option for reading the Times starts at $15 every four weeks, which provides access to NYTimes.com and smartphone apps.

The timing may just be a coincidence, but the Times’ soon-to-be sold sibling, The Boston Globe, introduced a new mobile app subscription plan Wednesday which will cost readers $3.99 a month.

April 02 2013

14:28

Dan Gillmor says journalists are uninformed about who controls the platforms they publish on

Dan Gillmor is writing a book (maybe), and he has a lot of questions. The project, which will probably be self published, will probably be called Permission Taken. Gillmor already owns that domain, so why not, he said in a talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society last week. (Also, his agent likes the title.)

Gillmor says he’s been thinking about the project for about a year, and he’s come up with a list of questions that he wants academics and practitioners around the country to help him answer. When Gillmor looks at the technologies, services, and platforms most of us use everyday and take for granted, he asks, in slide lingo,

KVESTIONS

The answers are not always clear.

Gillmor’s goal with the new book is a pedagogical one — he said he considers his students (at Arizona State University) to be his primary audience. He intends for the first few chapters to be a primer for the digitally barely literate on how to protect privacy and shore up digital security in day-to-day life. Some of the later chapters, however, will delve deeper into the nitty gritty.

Some of the ideas that will become a part of the new book Gillmor shared back in October at a symposium on digital ethics hosted by Poynter. Gillmor and other presenters also contributed essays to a book, The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century, to be published in July.

Generally, Gillmor doesn’t think anyone is fully aware of how vulnerable they are, technologically speaking. Build a back door into every new technology so the FBI can keep an eye on things, he says, “and I promise you it’s going to be used by criminals. The more you unharden the fences, the more room there is for really bad actors.”

Gillmor is especially concerned about how little he says journalists know about security and the extent to which they retain control over their content once it’s published online. “I ask, why are you pouring your journalism into Facebook where you don’t control it anymore? Why are you putting it on other people’s platforms?” In his slide deck, Gillmor gives the example of a New Yorker cartoon that caused Facebook to temporarily ban the magazine from their site — thereby claiming an unprecedented level of control over what is and isn’t acceptable in publishing.

Facebook is a particular concern of Gillmor’s, and he points to a tweet in his slideshow in which Loic le Meur quotes a friend employed by Facebook as saying “we’re like electricity.” “Is Facebook a utility?” asks Gillmor. “What do we do with utilities? We regulate them. Monopolies need regulation. I’m not a fan of regulation, but we have to think about that.”

Gillmor expressed similar concerns in his October talk about the level of control held by payment processors. Whether because of pressure from the government or an internal decision, Gillmor says, if the processor deems your content unacceptable, “then you won’t get paid.” But what journalists really don’t like, Gillmor told me, is when he asks them why they insist on building iOS apps that cede control of what is and isn’t journalism to Apple. In terms of distribution, they say they have no other option — and even journalists who have considered other options say the risk is worth it.

But some risks are never worth it. “Journalists need to learn more about security right away,” says Gillmor. “They are threatening the lives of their sources if they don’t.” In a recent column about the Harvard cheating scandal, in which the university admitted to scanning portions of employee emails, Gillmor showed exactly what can happen when a news outlet doesn’t know enough about how to protect their sources.

It’s not just employees and others who want to blow whistles who need to be more careful — such as using external accounts, encryption and a lot of other tools to be safer. (Note: I didn’t say “safe”, because absolute safety is exceedingly hard to achieve, if it’s even possible.)

Journalists, too, need better tradecraft when it comes to their dealings with sources. My impression of the typical newsroom’s precautions is that there aren’t many.

For six years as a columnist, Gillmor used a PGP at the bottom of each page — a safe, encrypted method by which sources could contact him. He said in six years, it was used twice — once by someone just checking to see if it worked.

For journalists, Gillmor recommends Tor, “a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.” (Committee to Protect Journalists when it comes to educating journalists about the dangers of using certain technologies.

But ultimately, Gillmor says, “It’s a crucial issue — and one that has not gotten enough attention inside the craft.” These issues fall very low on the priority list for an industry that Gillmor described as being in a constant state of desperation. But the dangers are real, Gillmor says, and with his new project, he hopes to find ways of bringing the convenience of private platforms to services that are both free and secure.

For now, though, “increasingly, journalists who really are appropriately paranoid in the right situations are learning not to use technology,” says Gillmor.

If you have a better idea, Gillmor is taking questions — and hopefully, answers.

Photo by f1uffster (Jeanie) used under a Creative Commons license.

August 20 2012

15:57

August 14 2012

16:16

March 28 2012

14:00

'Reckless Adrian Grenier': Will Personal Apps be Key to Celebrity Branding?

March marked the launch of "Reckless Adrian Grenier," an app built for the iPad, iPhone and iPod and created by Mobovivo for its namesake, actor and filmmaker Adrian Grenier.

AdrianGrenierMediaSummit_courtesyphoto.jpg

Some of you are moaning, "why does he need an app?" but others of you are perhaps "Entourage" fans, and an opportunity to get reacquainted with Grenier, who played Vincent Chase, is an exciting prospect.

That latter group is just the one that app developers are looking to as they launch a new kind of application -- the personal brand app.

Trevor Doerksen, founder and CEO of Mobovivo, said he's pretty confident that this new kind of personality app "is the right next step for a film and television celebrity." 

It's clear as more and more celebrities flock to the app model, it will become harder to stand out from the crowd. Developers and creators of apps will have to push themselves to pinpoint what is unique about their celebrity, sports star, comedian, politician, etc., in order to translate "personalities" into "brands" and then into digital interactive experiences in fresh ways.

For Doerksen, that means getting beyond just "chat" as engagement:

"Adrian is an indie filmmaker, and as a former filmmaker myself, I recognized what he was trying to do to engage audiences and tell more stories. Twitter has already created a good app for celebrities to chat with fans, but we need to go deeper than chat. Don't get me wrong, the human desire for communication is fundamental and chat features prominently in our platform. However, we all seem to need to satisfy a fundamental sense of curiosity and play as well."

Grenier and Doerksen gave a special keynote address to close Digital Hollywood's Media Summit earlier this month in New York, and I had an opportunity to chat with both of them about the "whys" and 'hows" of planning "Reckless Adrian Grenier."

controlling your own brand

RecklessAGscreengrab.jpg

There is an endgame to the personal app for celebrities. It offers a chance for them to control their own destiny in a way rarely seen with the Hollywood PR machine. With a movie star's box-office draw becoming about as predictable as blindly tossing chewed gum at a wall and hoping it sticks, building an audience base with a personal app is the equivalent of a politician getting out there to shake hands and hold babies to build his constituency -- the good old-fashioned grassroots way, albeit with digital handshaking and autograph signing.

Today social media and second screen experiences focus on making celebrities more accessible to their fan base. Grenier is already active on Twitter, with almost 227,000 followers, and Facebook with almost 114,00 fans, but by creating a personal app, he's not just further brand building "Adrian Grenier" -- he's also cross-branding with Reckless Productions, his production company. He's bringing the HBO Entourage audience into his antonymous world. Despite Grenier's personal fame, Reckless Productions, best known so far for "Teenage Paparazzo," fits into most indie film models. Indie film companies need funding, and investors like metrics and analytics. A dedicated and active audience of "Reckless Adrian Grenier" users can be directly marketed to with push notifications and other directives, a comfort to today's film investors with marketing budgets ballooning out of control.

(The "Reckless Adrian Grenier" app is free to download, but there are charges for certain features and items for purchase. Currently, all proceeds will go to the SHFT, an eco-conscious multimedia platform co-founded by Grenier. Focused on design, SHFT won the Best Green Website at the Webby Awards last year.)

q&a

AdrianGrenierTrevor Doerksen_courtesy.jpg

MediaShift: What made you decide to create an app?

Adrian Grenier: I'm a modern guy and just like anyone else I'm looking to explore the possibilities of storytelling and connecting with my audience independently, not always having to rely on the bigger production companies and distributors to control everything I do. It is a real blessing in this day and age to have that opportunity and to be on the cutting edge of technology; we are explorers in a lot of ways. I've had several app ideas over the years and not all of them this good. This is the one that really made sense and ultimately Mobovivo was able to create it.

When did you first realize the value of connecting with your fans as an artist?

Grenier: I always realized the value, but maybe I was a little lazy at first because it is a lot of work, at least to make that engagement authentic and real and true. I don't have a company doing my social media for me. It's all genuine.

How does the Reckless app assist you in making a unique and genuine connection with your fans?

Grenier: If you use a website, you always end up having to go to another program to connect. If you want to reach out to your fans, you have to send them an email or create a video and send it to them, and maybe they will comment, but that's on YouTube. This is a really direct connection; this is the bridge directly from me and Reckless to people who want that content. And it's beyond that -- it's leveraging casual encounters that I have with people every day and allowing them to become a very personal interaction. For example, I'm on tour with my film "Teenage Paparazzo." It's an educational tour, and we are going to colleges around the country. Every time I want to share something with them, I have to say, "Send me an email, sign up or whatever," but in this case, they can download the app and boom, we're already off to the races. In 2.0, (he laughs) I'm already excited for 2.0 ...

Trevor Doerksen interrupts: The Apple Store hasn't even released 1.0 yet.

Grenier: We have big ambitions and big ideas, and that's what I'm really excited about. This is really just the first breath.

Your existing fans will be interested in the app, but how do you anticipate the Reckless app will create or build a new fan base?

Grenier: The medium and the format are really just the tool. It is about the personal voice of the artist that makes it unique. Twitter is only 140 characters, but it is the unique voice of the individual that allows people to differentiate themselves. I can see the Reckless app being more than just a platform for me. I can see other people using it to connect with their audience, their fans and their friends. I don't know how much we need to reinvent our wheel; we need to spread it and share it.

How is this "sharing" done on a technical level?

Doerksen: I think how you do this is you get the market. That is what is wonderful from a technology point of view -- that there are so many things given to us today, from cloud computing to Apple SDK to the App Store to these new devices. (He holds up an iPhone.) This is a neat canvas to take advantage of. One of the things that will be an input to what we do next will be what we hear from what we do first. So I think getting the market is key to finding out what people like and what they would like to see in the future. That is going to happen with an app more than perhaps with another platform -- it's what's in your pocket.

We have a brand like "Reckless," a user experience where it is in your pocket, under your arm, on your desktop. To find a bookmark, you don't have to go searching; it is a click away. That engagement as we move forward is going to happen on television, maybe even on toasters. For now, we are excited to get feedback on 1.0.

I only saw the trailer for "Teenage Paparazzo" on the iPad version of the app. What other video content will be available for users?

Grenier: We have a lot of video content coming, but we feel like it's best to get out into the water and get our feet wet instead of waiting. It reminds me of surfing. I'm not a surfer, but I've been a couple times. You put the surfboard on the sand, and you practice jumping up. That's easy; anyone can do that. But you put it in the ocean and the waves are coming, and it's a whole other ball game. We wanted to get out there and get our sea legs.

Doerksen: You're like I am on these things, as are a lot of other people. It's an app put out by a film production company and people will ask, "Where's the film?" That's coming, too. Engaging content and entertainment is coming and, of course, more social.

How often can users expect new content to be added?

Grenier: Definitely every time we do an event at a school we will update the snapshots of the students. We have a ton of content -- especially with short form, the turnaround is much quicker. We are always creating short videos.

I see that as the most fascinating part of an app. It's almost a living, breathing entity. It isn't a film, which is finite. It grows and changes. How did you know the app was ready for release?

Grenier: That is something Trevor has been shepherding me through because I am a perfectionist but he's like, "Just relax." There's a learning process in release as well, in letting go.

Doerksen: One of the nice things is not just being about content, which is kinda a broadcast medium. We had to make it engaging. That's what we talk about constantly. If we had 85 films to put in the app -- what would the app be about? You'd be watching 85 films eventually? We've created a true fan engagement set of tools; that part is exciting -- and marrying the viewing experience to that, whether it's in front of the television as a second screen model or in a theater or with Adrian at the airport. Now that I have the app, I see the Twitter scroll and I know where you are all the time. (He points to Grenier.)

******

It will be interesting in the coming months and years to see how app creators push personal apps to new frontiers, finding out what celebrities, not only from the entertainment industry, but sports and beyond, can do with the new tools to harness and connect with their audiences. Let the branding race begin.

Amanda Lin Costa is a writer and producer in the film and television industry. She writes a series called "Truth in Documentary Filmmaking" and is currently producing the documentary, "The Art of Memories."

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December 08 2011

15:20

Why Our Startup Decided Not To Target the Newspaper Industry

Are there opportunities for technology startups which target the media business?

Fred Wilson -- a venture capitalist who has made investments in Twitter, Zynga, Tumblr, Etsy, and FourSquare, among others -- apparently thinks not. As reported on MediaShift on November 15, Wilson told an audience of CUNY students with interests in business and journalism that better opportunities could be found in industries that aren't as "picked over" and have problems that aren't being solved.

As the co-founder of a technology startup that once considered the news industry as a source of partnerships and revenue, I agree with Wilson that startups should look elsewhere.

However, the reason they should do so is not because the media industry lacks problems that need to be solved. If anything, the media industry has problems that span every sector of the industry and every segment of the value chain. Rather, the reason why startups should look for other opportunities is many industry problems are so intractable, and the chance for making a successful business is so slim, that it simply doesn't make sense to target it.

The case of Invantory

Right now, we're developing Invantory, a mobile software platform that targets the local classifieds marketplace that is currently dominated by Craigslist. We're going to make the Invantory experience one that is defined by an easy-to-use interface and great-looking photographs that are now possible with most smartphones. Further, we're attacking a problem that has vexed users of Craigslist and newspaper classifieds for years -- the lack of a system to vet who you're dealing with. Our reputation system, which is built on proprietary algorithms and other safeguards, will help users better evaluate the other parties before they make contact.

My partner, Sam Chow, is a former Microsoft engineer and an experienced programmer for Apple's iOS platform. My own background is online news, content and communities. In the 2000s, I was a technology journalist and online editor, and in the 1990s, I worked at a daily newspaper and on a daily television newscast.

My news roots run deep, and I thought there might be some alignment between our platform and the needs of local news publishers, which have seen their own classifieds revenue fall sharply in the last five years. In 2006, classified revenue in four categories (cars, jobs, real estate and "other") totaled $17 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Last year, it totaled just $5.6 billion. Wouldn't it be great if our platform could somehow help the media industry, while building Invantory's user base?

craigslist_350x225.png

I began seeking out publishers, online news professionals and other experts to better understand the market and the possibilities for our platform to serve online news operations through white-label apps or other solutions. Very quickly I realized there would be a problem selling to publishers. Most people I talked with had reservations about dealing with software vendors, ranging from a reluctance to share revenue to outright mistrust.

"I've dealt with enough vendors to become very cynical," a publisher of a small newspaper told me. "Whether they extrapolate revenue based on bigger markets or outright lie, we have become very suspicious."

This sentiment, which was echoed by others I spoke with, made me realize that the sales cycles would be punishing. For many customers, it would be hard to get our foot in the door, let alone successfully close a deal.

Yet the same publisher was interested in a technology that could help once again make classifieds a draw -- as well as bring in revenue or improve efficiencies. He readily admitted that his own technology was complicated for users. "On Craigslist, it's easy to create an ad, upload a photo, and publish," he said. "We should be able to do that."

The barriers

I spent time studying how classified systems worked at various publishers. I found it very interesting that many smaller publishers still had a classifieds desk that took ads over the phone, often augmented by email with customers. Some larger publishers had online classifieds tools, but they were clunky. Part of the problem related to the fact that most attempted to serve both the print and online classifieds, and did neither job well. Others were poorly configured. The system used by my hometown newspaper didn't even let me post classifieds locally -- but did make it possible to create listings in markets more than 20 miles away. The system also tried to charge expensive rates for relatively small ads -- $15 to $20 was a typical base rate for a small text ad in print. (A simple online classified ad was included for free.) No wonder people were abandoning newspaper classifieds for Craigslist.

Beyond the clunky ad creation systems, one of the biggest technology problems I observed was the nonstandard online publishing platforms used across the industry. This is actually a huge, underappreciated issue for all news publishers, including broadcasters, news agencies, blog-based news and opinion sites. It leads to additional costs, complexities, and talent shortages that companies based on older media platforms -- including print, television and radio -- did not have to deal with.

Among newspaper websites, it's not hard to find home-grown hacks or heavily customized content management systems. Even at publishers which use the same CMS across their properties, variations are common -- a typical example might involve different versions of Drupal and Drupal modules, owing to staggered technology upgrades, different needs for various brands, and complications involving legacy applications and data. Throw different registration and online payment systems into the mix, and you can start to understand the problem new software platforms targeting this industry are faced with.

Related to the CMS mess was a lack of developers and other technical staff at media organizations. This is a problem that afflicts many industries, not just the news business. But it exacerbated the problem with nonstandard publishing systems. Not only would heavy programming work be required to get Invantory to work with a new customer's site, but integration would largely fall back on us. Systems integration is technology consulting that requires lots of time and specialized development staff. It was not a business that we wanted to get into.

The Final Nails in the Coffin

The final nails in the coffin came at the New England Newspaper & Press Association's fall conference in October. There, I heard more details about the pain being experienced by publishers, and received advice that helped us make our decision to abandon our original plan to target the media industry.

One of the speakers, Amy Mitchell of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, laid out the grim financial outlook. She stated that while most newspapers are still managing a profit, they're surviving by managing costs. Mitchell was unable to identify any solution to the revenue crisis. "We are not recommending anything other than experimentation," she told the audience, adding that this was going to be tough at many publications whose corporate cultures are resistant to change and innovation. This signaled that publishers were not only less likely to invest in innovative technologies, they were also unable to afford more expensive third-party software.

News industry analyst, author and blogger Ken Doctor was even more skeptical of a turnaround. "It is impossible for anyone to keep up with the disruption," he stated. Doctor went on to predict that broadcasters would soon begin to feel the same pain as newspapers and magazines, as business models based on traditional advertising eroded further.

However, Doctor also saw opportunity in tablet platforms. "If you read, you're going to have a tablet," he said, adding that the price of Kindles and other devices will soon drop to $50. "Why wouldn't you buy one?" he asked the audience.

The final presentation of the afternoon was from Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor turned Silicon Valley CEO. As a consultant, speaker and author of the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, he has become a well-known pundit on the travails of the news industry. During his NENPA talk, he predicted more top-line pain for publishers, owing to a number of trends:

  • "The audience trend is you don't have audiences under the age of 40."
  • "The most important thing happening is brands are going directly to consumers."
  • "High-priced reach advertising is not defensible."
  • "Coca-Cola has 34 million friends on Facebook ... This is the future for marketing and advertising."

Later in the day, I spoke with Mutter, and described our vision for Invantory as a mobile classifieds platform that could potentially sell white-labelled apps and platform technology to the news industry. He was pessimistic, not only because of the problems I cited earlier, but also because of the climate for raising capital in this space. "VCs with any experience won't invest in you," he warned.

Nevertheless, Mutter seemed hopeful about the idea of doing something different with classifieds. "Think about a real way to reinvent the classifieds market," Mutter told me. "Because there isn't one now."

Moving on

That evening, I met my partner and told him that the idea of selling to the news industry wouldn't work. Doing so would require huge investments of time and staff expertise, for skeptical customers who generally couldn't afford expensive technology systems. Raising capital would be more difficult when investors heard who we were targeting. We are still going ahead with our plan to create a mobile classifieds platform, but will instead go direct to consumer based on a freemium business model.

We've already built out the cloud infrastructure and now have a demo application. Work has already started on our intellectual property -- the proprietary technologies that will drive our reputation system. Soon we will begin user testing. (If you're interested in signing up for product updates, or seeing an alternative to Craigslist in your town or city, please use the sign-up form on the front page of the Invantory website.)

We understand that we'll face a new set of challenges, especially in terms of developing a solid go-to-market strategy and revenue plan. But we believe the time is ripe for innovation in this space.

Ian Lamont is the former managing editor of The Industry Standard and a web media veteran with years of experience developing online news, community and content. He eventually left the news media to return to grad school, earning an MBA as an MIT Sloan Fellow. His startup, Invantory, is a mobile software platform for local classifieds. Follow him on Twitter at @invantory or @ilamont or email him at ian.lamont@invantory.com.

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June 30 2011

05:28

"Live-tweeting supports live viewing": Twitter, Facebook, mobile apps, and the social TV experience

emarketer :: Social media is bringing dramatic changes to nearly every aspect of the TV business. Viewers are using Facebook and Twitter to comment about shows before, during and after they air. Television networks, grappling with the fragmentation of their audience, are experimenting with mobile apps, Twitter promotions and branded social networks in an effort to bring viewers back together. And a variety of other stakeholders are getting in on the social action as well. 

[Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer principal analyst:] Experimentation still rules the day.

The "hard" facts - continue to read (charts available) www.emarketer.com

March 24 2011

16:00

The power of brand to inspire bias: How do perceptions of Al Jazeera English change once the logo’s gone?

William Youmans and Katie Brown are Ph.D. candidates in communication studies at the University of Michigan who just published an interesting paper in the journal Arab Media & Society about how audience bias against Al Jazeera is pushing the network to seek nontraditional methods of distribution. You can read the entire academic paper, but they’ve written a summary for the Lab below.

The diminished capacity of American TV news networks to cover international news became sharply evident during the recent uprisings in the Middle East, most notably Egypt. Into that void stepped Al Jazeera English (AJE). With headquarters in Qatar and staff already stationed in Egypt, the global news media outlet quickly mobilized an on-the-ground newsgathering presence.

But most Americans couldn’t just turn on their televisions to watch AJE’s coverage. The network is largely absent from cable and the main satellite providers’ offerings despite being available in 250 million homes globally. As Ph.D candidates in communication studies at the University of Michigan, we were interested in the role that Americans’ perception of the channel might have in its difficulties getting cable carriage — and how online distribution might serve as a fruitful workaround. That led us to an experimental study that looked at how Al Jazeera branding might influence public perception of a piece of journalism.

The Egypt effect

For years, some in the Bush administration and the American media spoke of the Arabic Al Jazeera channel (AJ) as a spreader for enemy propaganda in Afghanistan and Iraq. This association proved robust in American political discourse. It was one reason AJE had such a tough time getting into the American market when it launched in late 2006. Even today, only cable systems in Washington, D.C., Burlington, Vermont, and Toledo, Ohio currently carry the channel in its entirety.

AJE’s coverage of Egypt was something of a turning point for the network’s image in the United States. Visits to AJE’s website increased 25 times, with more than half of the traffic coming from the U.S. The D.C. area was one of the leaders in Google searches for “Al Jazeera English” at the time. The press not only turned to AJE for information and footage, but lauded its work; ABC News’ Sam Donaldson thanked the network on air. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called AJE “real news” and juxtaposed it with the talking head-dominated American channels.

As public discourse about AJE changed, many began to question its lack of availability on television sets. Then-New York Times columnist Frank Rich made a tongue-in-cheek analogy: during the Egypt story, “news-starved Americans” tracking down AJE online were like “Iron Curtain citizens clandestinely trying to pull in the jammed Voice of America signal in the 1950s.”

But despite the accolades and calls for carriage, cable companies appeared to let AJE’s “moment” pass, at least for now. In late February, AJE met with the nation’s two largest cable operators, Comcast and Time-Warner. No deal has been announced in the month since (although carriage deals often take longer to materialize).

It is likely the operators are holding out for evidence that attention on AJE sustains or increases. The question of cable carriage is not just a function of policymakers, the press, and cable company preferences. Public demand is an important part of the equation. Are Americans generally open-minded towards AJE after the Egypt coverage?

We conducted an experimental study (pdf) on how potential viewer attitudes toward AJE change with exposure to the channel’s news content. Carried out online in late February to early March, our study involved 177 American participants, drawn from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk pool.

The participants were randomly assigned to three groups. Two of them watched an AJE-produced news clip about the Taliban’s position towards peace talks, which included minimal reference to America. The first group watched the original clip with AJE’s branding:

The second group saw the same news piece re-edited to carry CNN International’s (CNNI) logo.

The third group, the control, viewed no clip. We then asked participants in each group to rate, in general, how biased they thought AJE and CNNI were.

Watching the AJE clip — branded as AJE — did not seem to have an impact on perceptions of bias; bias ratings were equal between those in the AJE-clip-watching group and the control group.

But in the group that had just watched the clip with fake CNNI branding, participants rated CNNI as less biased than those in the control group.

This suggests that many Americans may be unwilling to change their perceptions of AJE — despite the fact that the same clip, when attributed to CNNI, boosted their impressions of the American network.

We also asked all the participants about views towards cable carriage: Should AJE be on cable systems? The responses were distributed in a bell-curve, with no significant differences between conditions. The largest group, about 40 percent, was indifferent. Roughly 25 percent said they prefer carriage but would not take action to promote it. Slightly fewer, about 20 percent, said they would merely prefer it’s not on air, but would do nothing about it either way. While 5 percent said they would contact cable companies to request AJE, 7 percent said they would actively oppose AJE’s carriage. (No one said they would take action opposing CNNI’s availability.)

This finding of an oppositional minority is echoed by actual action, ranging from national petitions to protests against a Pacifica radio station in Houston and a campaign against a small college cable system’s airing of AJE programming in Daytona Beach. In Vermont, some members of the public and Burlington city officials protested the presence of AJE on the municipally-run telecom, sparking a local debate. AJE remained a part of the lineup. Former NBC executive Jeff Zucker suggested that one cause of AJE’s cable troubles is the fear advocacy groups and high-profile media figures “would go after some of those distributors if they were to put Al-Jazeera on.”

But even absent public opposition, there would still be doubts about the commercial feasibility of another news network. Cable companies can point to declining news audiences and the supposed lack of American public interest in international news, arguing that the TV news market has reached a saturation point. These, along with the fear of backlash, only creates further reluctance in an already risk averse industry. The preferences of those in favor of AJE’s availability, around one-third of our respondents, are overridden by this outcome. The power of cable as a gatekeeper prevents AJE from participating in the open competition of ideas so important to American free press values.

Circumventing cable

AJE’s best chance for getting around cable gatekeepers is by continuing to develop new, mostly online, distribution channels. Survey research from Pew suggests that while TV news viewing since 1996 has been relatively stable, online news consumption since 2006 has been on the rise.

The lack of cable carriage may force AJE to look ahead of the curve if it is to build an American audience. AJE’s online news gathering, presentation, and distribution are still developing, but have shown major improvements in the past year especially.

AJE’s provision of video clips and online livestreaming via its website and YouTube, where it is currently the third most watched news and politics channel, enhanced its accessibility tremendously. Google, to the extent it is increasingly becoming a media company, has been hospitable to AJE.

AJE has arranged a deal for carriage through Roku, the Internet-based set-top video delivery company — although how much of a substitute such Internet-based TV systems will be for cable is still an open question. And AJE continued to roll out smartphone distribution by adding an Android app to its iPhone, Nokia, and Samsung lineup.

During the Egypt story, the network’s website coverage and online videos were heavily redistributed via social media such as Twitter and Facebook and led many to AJE’s website. At times, as many as 70 percent of its website visitors linked in from social networking platforms and sites.

News flows online are diffuse and remain relatively free of large gatekeepers. Small vocal groups are less able to deny access to news and information they oppose through protests and threats of boycott. Questions of middle-man profitability and channel capacity constraints do not constrain online distribution. One unintentional advantage of its exclusion from cable and American satellite is that AJE will be better placed as news consumption routines increasingly depend on the Internet — assuming new, powerful gatekeepers do not arise to block others’ access to information.

February 25 2011

17:00

How to Experience the Oscars on Mobile, Social Media

The Academy Awards are less than 127 hours away. While most people haven't seen all 10 Best Picture nominees, the Oscar-nominated reels may still be experienced through the revelry of mobile, digital and social initiatives. For moviegoers who still want the big screen experience of dreams and swans before Sunday, AMC Theatres offers the final chance with its Best Picture Spotlight.

If you can't commit to a movie marathon this weekend, the Academy, as well as media and technology companies, have created digital popcorn for snacking on the Oscar experience before Sunday.

The Academy

The Oscars and nominated movies are omnipresent in digital media and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is showing true grit with its promotional campaign. ABC, the official broadcast partner for the Oscars through 2020, created the Oscar Backstage Pass, a companion app for the telecast that offers live camera views from the red carpet, the Kodak Theatre and the Governor's Ball. Available for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, the $0.99 app (iTunes link) gives viewers directorial powers previously limited to a select few. Out of the nine camera angles offered in the Kodak Theatre, including Host Cam, Thank You Cam and Audience Cam, the most intriguing may be Control Booth Cam. When a winner's speech exceeds the time limit, this viewpoint could possibly give us the Cue Music Cam.

Oscar Backstage Pass.jpg

For those who prefer the free experience, download "The Oscars" mobile app for access to the latest news and events or try to predict the winners in all 24 categories. Currently, 23 percent of The Oscars app users think "The King's Speech" will win Best Picture, while "The Social Network" is second with 18 percent. The only runaway favorite is Natalie Portman, with 71 percent believing that she'll dance away with Best Actress.

Oscars red-carpet-experience.jpg

Walk down Broadway about 20 blocks from the New York City Ballet and you'll find yourself next to an interactive display called The Oscar Experience. Fans can have their picture taken next to a virtual Oscar statuette. Some hold the statue, while others prefer to smile or cry as if they are giving an acceptance speech. The photo galleries may be viewed on the Academy's Facebook page.

Google

Google is tracking the global search trends for the Oscar nominees in an easy-to-use tool appropriately called Oscar Search Trends. The charts for all categories may be customized for the last 30 days, the last 12 months or all years. Obscure international search results include the following: "Inception" leads all searches among Visual Effects nominees with Singapore driving the volume above India, while "Inside Job" leads Documentary Feature nominees with Portugal edging out Canada in volume. "Black Swan" leads all Best Picture nominees in global search popularity. And if you know Google, they prefer "Black Swan" searches over black hat search engine optimization.

Twitter

The cinematic characters and the actors who potray them will surely be a focal point of the tweets that Oscar watchers will post on Sunday. Follow the #Oscars hashtag on Twitter to see a continuous stream of comments on all things Oscar -- the winners, the fashion, the jokes, the speeches, the surprises, the parties and the totally inappropriate or irrelevant. For a more intimate and insightful Oscar experience, follow the tweets of these Oscar nominees:

  • James Franco (@jamesfranco) - Co-host of the Oscars and nominated for Best Actor ("127 Hours")
  • Mark Ruffalo (@mruff221) - Nominated for Best Supporting Actor ("The Kids Are All Right")
  • Helena Bonham Carter (@_HelenaBCarter_) - Nominated for Best Supporting Actress ("The King's Speech")
  • Trent Reznor (@trent_reznor) - Nominated for Best Music, Original Score ("The Social Network") with Atticus Ross

AOL

You may want to believe that "The Kids Are All Right," but in kid reenactments of the Best Picture nominees, the kids are all ridiculous. Yes, ridiculously cute and cut-throat, as in "The Social Network" clip (below), or cute and cut-arm in "127 Hours."

GetGlue

While you're watching Sunday's telecast on ABC and seeing the accuracy of your picks dwindle with each category, find comfort in something that truly sticks -- such as an official Oscars sticker from GetGlue, a social network that enables entertainment check-ins. It may not be "The Social Network," but it's one of many digitally choreographed programs attempting to get movie fans glued to the Oscars.

the_oscars.png

Have you participated in any digital Oscar engagement programs or plan to watch Sunday night's show? Share your favorite digital enhancements to the show in the comments below.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and Web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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February 03 2010

12:33

THE INNOVATION “DIGITAL NARRATIVES” FACEBOOK PAGE

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Days before the launch of the Apple iPad, INNOVATION started this Facebook Page about Digital Narratives.

The new Page is a showcase of the best digital narratives and digital news design for the iPad, mobile apps, tablets and websites as selected by Pedro Monteiro and Juan Senor.

You can subscribe here.

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