Weekend Media Threads, July 13, 2019

I wanted to be what when I grew up? Time to pivot Weekend Media Threads.

No matter how old I get I’m always asking myself the same question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” When I was in elementary school or younger I recall considering three options: a Catholic priest, an Air Force pilot, or a football player. Looking back at the three now and thinking of the person I’ve become, two of those are absolutely hilarious.

This could have been me.

Sometime in middle school my interests changes and I wanted to be a comic book artist. Or a comic strip writer/artist. I guess that’s kind of the same thing. In high school my love for the arts evolved beyond just comics and I wanted to be an ‘artist.’

When I began my college career, the style of artist I wanted to become was a photographer. More specifically, I wanted to be a war photographer.

I could have been so pretentious.

However, this was just prior to the digital age and everything was still being done on film. I quickly realized that having photography as a major was, let’s say, cost prohibitive. So I went down the hall to the computer lab and learned to be a graphic designer. I eventually received my bachelor’s degree in the arts with a focus on graphic design from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

Flash forward 18 years and now I’m working in digital media operations. Overseeing website builds, app development, content distribution, online advertising yield, etc. You can argue that this is adjacent to graphic design by way of user experience and interface, but in reality I haven’t been a designer – or ‘artist’ – in well over a decade.

What’s even more amazing is that in high school I would have told you that there is no way I would ever work on a computer, let alone in a field called ‘digital media.’

Gasp! I was an artist!

I was all about ‘traditional’ art forms. Computers were nothing more than a fad.

During one Christmas gathering I even argued with my aunt Peggy about it. She suggested I should consider computers as part of my career path.

The nerve of her!

I insisted I would never become victim to such technology. I would be a traditional artist forever.

Forever!

Turns out she was right.

To be fair, at that point in my life I hadn’t experienced the internet. It’s not that I’m so old that the internet didn’t exist as a consumer product at the time. It’s more that in the mid-90’s the internet wasn’t available like it is today. Not to mention computers were still very expensive, and wasn’t something my family could afford.

Just check out this sweet rig you could get for $1,995. 850MB hard drive with 8MB of RAM – this will be the last computer you need!

Borrowed from the Fuzzy Notepad blog.

For comparison, this is the equivalent of buying a for $3,350 today. Here are some Alienware options you can buy today for around that price.

You might be asking, what is the point of all this in my Weekend Media Threads post? What does this have to do with media? Basically I’m trying to work out what I want my blog to be when it grows up.

I enjoy doing commentary on media, but I want it to become something more. Personally, the blogs or newsletters I enjoy most are the ones that have some kind of personal bent to them. For example, John Dick, the CEO and founder of CivicScience, sends a weekly email newsletter that generally starts with some personal story before he talks about what they are seeing via their poll data each week. It’s something I look forward to on Saturday morning.

That’s the direction I want to take this blog. In addition to being more interesting, I think it will be a cathartic experience for me. Maybe I’ll learn to let my personality and personal opinions out a bit more.

So my intention is for this post to be my pivot point. Maybe I’ll come up with a better title each week, start with something more personal, then throw in some interesting links or commentary about the week in media – depending on time.

In between my weekend posts I’m going to try and do some shorter posts during the week when I find something interesting and want to share and comment.

If you enjoy my blog, or have suggestions, please leave a comment, DM me on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn, or contact me however you know how and let me know. I would love to hear from folks.

This week’s links

Digiday: ‘Newsletters as puzzle pieces’: How The Economist uses email to reduce subscriber churn

‘Hard to justify investing resources’: Publishers still cautious on IGTV efforts with lack of ads

CNN: Billionaires are saving journalism. Yes, that’s right

MediaPost: The News Project Powers ‘CalMatters’ Relaunch

Weekend Media Threads, July 6, 2019

MAD Magazine is all but dead, so is Thud, Amazon owns everything, but can Walmart challenge them?

MAD Magazine announce this week that it will will discontinue publishing new content this fall. They’ll continue to publish special editions with classic content, but there will be no new content. At this point a print media icon shutting down isn’t news, it something that occurs regularly at this point.

This particular end is of personal interest to me, however. I was a huge fan of MAD. I have a framed copy of a random issue hanging in my foyer, and keep a copy signed by my eight grade classmates in a memory box. I haven’t read the magazine regularly in well over 20 years, but I have checked in occasionally to see how the magazine is holding up.

When I did pick up a copy, what I found was what you see in MAD’s print cousins: less pages, smaller format, confusing layout, no sense of continuity, etc. I also found that I outgrew most of the humor a long time ago. Although, while the humor no longer struck a chord with me, the artwork has remained top notch, a fact that will remain through the final issue I’m sure. MAD’s artists have always been second-to-none.

I even checked in to its website on rare occasions, and started following them on various social sites. Unfortunately what I found there was a sad version of the once-great magazine. MAD and its staff of artists and writers, like many traditional media outlets, never figured out how to thrive in our modern media landscape. Unlike most media outlets, from my perspective, it didn’t feel like they even tried. Like they decided they would ride and die with a dying print presence.

With its irreverent humor, political takes, and stylized art could have positioned itself to become a unique online satire website. Instead, MAD’s web presence feels like a box to check someone checks once a week instead of a destination for users to experience new content.

The fact that Cracked will outlive MAD it terms of societal relevancy, seems like an awful joke to my 12-year-old self. I assume most of the people who visit Cracked.com have no clue its history in magazine publishing and how it was the only satire magazine to really compete with MAD. In Cracked’s Wikipedia entry they reference a joke that I always found to be true:

and it [Cracked] “spent nearly half a century with a fan base primarily comprised of people who got to the store after Mad sold out.”

MAD was always more popular and socially relevant. Yet over the past two decades MAD continued its decline into obscurity while Cracked magazine folded and it reinvented itself into a successful website.

Somewhere I imagine Sylvester P. Smythe standing over Alfred E. Neuman laughing.

Thud!

Not that building a satire/comedy brand is easy, just ask Elon Musk.

Before I read that linked article I had never heard of Thud, or at least I don’t remember hearing about it. Thud is a satire brand that was envisioned to consist of more than just a website. Announced in March of 2014, Thud would create fake brands, products, and museum installations that would exist in real world.

The reason I, and I’m guessing most people, never heard of it is because it got off to a rough start and never found an audience. Which was a result of its “quirky and limited” marketing:

Thud’s quirky and limited approach to marketing meant that few people discovered its projects. Of its initial send-ups, two out of the three that include social media components have fewer than 150 followers combined across their Twitter and Instagram pages. The most successful project, DNA Friend, has around 2,000 followers across both platforms.

I looked through some of the brands they did create and they just scream of trying too hard. I’m all for quirky, and love satire, but nothing hear strikes me a something that is needed. And apparently most people agree.

Amazon owns everything

I came across this list from BuzzFeed News on businesses owned by Amazon (of course named with more SEO value than I wrote above). According to the article, “Amazon will make up an estimated 38% of the U.S. e-commerce market this year.” According to Shopify, the e-commerce market in the U.S. is $561 billion. Amazon’s e-commerce business will bring in $213 billion in 2019. To match this you would need to combine the e-commerce markets of Canada ($44b), Germany ($77b), and the U.S. ($93b).

That’s incredible.

What’s even more incredible is the number of individual businesses that Amazon owns that makes up its empire. They even own a wind farm.

Can anyone challenge Amazon?

One of Amazon’s main competitors in e-commerce is Walmart. Actually with just 4.7 percent of the market, it might not be fair to call they a competitor. At least not yet.

Walmart has moved aggressively into the e-commerce space over the past few years in order to position themselves as a competitor. More than you can save for most retailers. Although its currently behind the curve, credit Walmart for recognizing the future and quickly carving out a path to get there. At least they understand what they need to do.

But can they do it?

As with any traditional brand that aggressively moves into the digital world, it will be tough. A fact that is detailed in this Recode article on Walmart’s internal conflict in regards to its race against Amazon.

It’s not easy for a company to move into a new space. There is a huge amount of risk. It’s uncomfortable, unnerving and, when you’re in catch-up mode, can be a money-losing proposition in the short-term causes. Which can cause internal strife. A reality, according to Recode, that Walmart is now fully entrenched in.

According to sources in the article, Walmart’s e-commerce division lost $1 billion on revenues of between $21 and $22 billion (just five percent of Walmart’s U.S. business). And folks on the profitable side of the business are getting nervous.

From Recode:

This is the reality Lore [Jet.com founder, which Walmart bought in 2016] is still struggling to get Walmart’s entire executive team and board to accept, though sources say McMillon [Walmart CEO] also acknowledges it: E-commerce in the US is becoming a “winner take all” industry. Or, at a minimum, a “winner take most” market.

Amazon is a very real existential threat to Walmart’s entire future if the retailer does not significantly close this gap — and fast. If Walmart falls further behind Amazon or doesn’t make up ground, we’re increasingly likely to face a future where Amazon is even more the de facto online store for everyone, with little legitimate competition or compelling alternatives on the market.

It’s a fascinating look at the internal workings of large-scale change at any organization.

Weekend Media Threads, June 29, 2019

Facebook is getting into banking and crypto currency, what could go wrong? Roku continues to dominate the streaming device race.

I can’t believe it’s the last weekend of June already. Between a new job, travel, vacation, and trying to balance the new reality of my personal and professional worlds, it’s been a lightning-fast couple of weeks. On the bright side, despite how quickly the weeks have gone, it’s been a great month. I’ve had a lot of new experiences and have met some fantastic people along the way.

But it was quick.

How quick?

So quick that my arch nemesis, Facebook, announced plans to launch a crypto currency, Libra, and I’ve yet to mention it anywhere. Not even a tweet about it with some snarky comment. Facebook is planning to destroy our banking industry and here I am trying to balance life. I dropped the ball on this one.

But yes, Facebook is in fact planning to launch its own digital currency sometime in quarter 1 of 2020. The idea that Facebook will launch its own digital currency isn’t really new news. This is something that has been discussed and speculated on for at least a year. However, the company detailed its plans in an announcement on June 18, 2019.

In addition to the currently, the announcement detailed plans for Calibra, a new Facebook subsidiary. Calibra will provide financial services that will allow people access and participate in the Libra network. The offerings will include a digital wallet for Libra, available in Messenger, WhatsApp, as well as a standalone app.

As the BBC points out, this is not the first time Facebook has attempted a digital currency. Facebook launched Credits in 2009, and subsequently abandoned the project in 2012. Credits seemed to have failed because it was confusing, restrictive, and well ahead of its time.

Libra is much less restrictive. Facebook’s intention is for Libra to be a global currency in the same vein as Bitcoin, and not restricted to its own platform, as was Credits. Libra is also backed by 28 founding partners including Visa and Mastercard.

If you judge this at face-value, Libra appears to have a lot going for it. A non-profit subsidiary to administer the currency and business partners in banking, tech and other sectors.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that this bus is being driven by Facebook. No matter what shade of lipstick you put on it, what non-profit has oversight, and how many business partners are backing it, not one person in the world should trust Facebook. And if you still trust Facebook, you haven’t been paying attention.

Facebook has had a hand in decimating journalism, the proliferation of fake news, election fraud, and multiple privacy issues that they’ve either ignored or addressed with the maturity of a 12-year-old. Actually I take that back. My son is 12 and I think he would at least be more empathetic than Facebook has been.

The company has proven time after time that it cannot be trusted with your privacy, why in the world should we trust them to create and run a digital currency and international banking system?

The answer is we shouldn’t, but the reality is that we will. And it will be successful – at least until its first major scandal or hack and the European Union steps in (you don’t actually think the U.S. will crack down on any of the Silicon Valley darlings, do you?). The odd thing is that I don’t think it will be the Facebook platform or Messenger that makes it successful. Facebook’s core users are less likely to use a crypto. They skew older and were raised by a fiscally conservative generation (at least from a banking standpoint). Most of them will smartly steer clear of the risk.

It will be What’s App and Instagram that will drive the success of Libra. Both have significantly younger user bases that are accustomed to purchasing digital currency to buy digital goods. As an example, an entire generation has been raised on Xbox, PlayStation, and Steam where it’s commonplace to buy platform-specific digital currently in order buy games and in-game items. Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a platform agnostic digital currency instead of having your funds locked within a single platform?

Seems like a relatively mundane pain point to solve, right? Why not create a little convince for folks in order to build a user base and attach millions of banking accounts to Facebook’s flawed privacy system?

What will this convince get us? With Facebook’s culture and business practice of moving fast and breaking things, they do just that. Given how that has played in journalism and elections, and the lack of accountability Facebook has shown, we could be in for a very bumpy ride.

I’m sure the banking system will be just fine though.

Roku Continues to Dominate

FierceVideo reported this week that according to Strategy Analytics Roku accounted for 30% of all U.S. sales of streaming devices in quarter 1 of 2019. Amazon was number two during the quarter, accounting for 12%. This now gives Roku 41 million streaming devices that are in use in the U.S., good for more than 15% of the market and a 36% lead over number two Sony.

It’s amazing that despite Roku being one of the first movers in the OTT market – and with massive competitors Amazon, Apple, Samsung, and Sony – that they continue to be the leaders in the streaming TV space. It’s not as though they are sitting on a lead and playing defense either. They continue to grow at an astounding pace, faster than any competitor.

Weekend Media Threads June 23, 2019

No media this week, just a fun time in LA.

Due to a much longer than planned travel day on Saturday, this is going to be a shortened version of my weekend media threads, and won’t have much in regards to media. The reason being, my family and I were on vacation this is week in Los Angeles visiting my brother, John. He relocated from Pittsburgh to LA a few ago and this was the first time we’ve had a chance to visit him in his new home.

It was also the first time that I’ve been on the west coast. I’ve been in the western time zone, Las Vegas to be specific. But never all the way to the coast. As was the case, we decided to fit as many tourist-type visits as possible. Combine that with an unexpected stop in Chicago due to an electrical failure on the flight home, and it was a very long week – but not in a bad way.

Needless to say, I’ve had very little time to think or read about media this week. No, most of my reading this week was fiction. Just something to kick back and enjoy my time with family. So instead of talking media, I thought I would share some images of our time in LA.

Enjoy!

It is no exaggeration to say these scooters are everywhere. I walked three quarters of a mile and counted 95 that were in some state of non-usage. Also, that’s my brother, John.

I do love street art.

La Brea Tar Pits

Universal Studios Hollywood.

Culver City.

Griffith Observatory.

Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier.

And finally, The Getty Center. I’m still in awe of the views from here. Stunning.

Weekend Media Threads, June 15, 2019

Digging into Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report.

As any media nerd can tell you the best report of the year is Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, which was released this week at Recode Media’s annual Code Conference. After last year’s report I wrote about print media’s continued revenue decline as tied to its loss in time spent (as many others did and continue to do). Here is this year’s slide, which includes a nice comparison to 2010:

Media Time vs. Advertising Spending. Slide 22 from Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report.

And here is last year’s slide as a reminder:

Media Time vs. Advertising Spending. Slide 96 from Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends Report.

It’s difficult to gauge the true loss year-over-year because we don’t know the true percentages. This is particularly true with print because the numbers are small. For example, if last year’s time spent was 4.4% (rounded to 4%) and this year’s is 2.5% (rounded to 3%), the YoY loss is 43%. But if last year was 3.5% and this year is 3.4% it’s just a 3% loss.

For arguments sake let’s use the round numbers in the report.

From the 2018 to 2019 report print saw a loss of 25% in advertising revenue share and a 22% loss in time spent. Which would make sense. If true, and it continues to track this way, the loss in time is likely to fall another 43% before it matches today’s print advertising revenue output.

Which means print advertising revenue will likely fall another 40-50% to somewhere between one and two percent of the ad revenue market. It’s difficult to imagine how legacy publishers survive this kind of loss.

Another interesting item from this year’s slide is that three of the five categories – TV, desktop, and mobile – all have the same percentage advertising spend as they do time spent. TV is at 35%, desktop 18% and mobile 33%. However, there is movement within each category.

In TV this is the second year in a row where the two columns were equal. Last year they were at 36%, now they are at 33%. A loss of 6% from each column.

On desktop time spent remained the same, but advertising spend fell from 20% to 18% to match the time being spent.

The big mover was mobile. Time spent increased from 29% to 33%, a 14% gain. While revenue increased from 26% to 33%, a 27% gain.

This leaves us with radio. Similar to print, radio if off kilter. Except in the opposite columns, which is likely not awful news. Time spent with radio has a 12% share, down from 13% last year. Advertising spend has an 8% share, down from 9%.

The question now is, will advertising spend continue to align with time spent, or will marketers move more dollars into mobile until it has a disproportionate spend?

This chart has been moving towards this equilibrium since it has existed, so my best guess is that the shares will move in sync with each other. The exceptions being print and radio.

Print’s revenue will continue to fall, maybe at a faster rate that it has been. To keep profits steady, print will slash more content, which will suppress time even more. Eventually both will settle in at 1 – 2%, but what will be left?

And radio? I haven’t followed as closely as print, but if I’m correct in saying that time spent and advertising spend are finding an equilibrium, I could see revenues stabilize as time continues to fall.

And time will continue to fall in traditional media.

Why?

Adults are constantly online …

… or ‘almost constantly,’ as this slide illustrates:

Percentage of adults online almost constantly. Slide 162 from Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report.

Overall adults spend 26% of their time online. Up 24% from 2015. More than a quarter of time spent online is a big number, but look at the groups 18-29 and 30-49. They spend 39% and 36% of their time respectively online.

The biggest jump from 2015 to 2018 are those folks in the 30-49 age range. They jumped from 28% in 2015 to 36% in 2018. That’s an almost 30% increase in just three years. I’m sure a lot of this is driven by folks in the 18-29 range aging into their 30’s, but it also speaks to how connected we’ve become to our technology.

To help combat the amount of time spent with our technology, technology companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, YouTube) are now offering wellness and time tracking tools.

Which is the definition of irony. Especially in the case of Facebook and YouTube. They’ve built technology and algorithms specifically designed to get you to spend more time on their platforms, not less.

But maybe it’s starting to work.

Percentage of adults online almost constantly. Slide 164 from Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report.

Time spent on social media is starting to decelerate. It’s still growing, just not as fast as it was. I’m sure after Facebook and Alphabet shareholders get a look at this slide those time watching tools will get tweaked to match market expectations, not user health.

And there is so much more

Seriously, this report has so much in it.

I know it’s 333 slides, but if you have any interest in the internet I highly recommend you take some time and page through it. It’s not just about media either. It gets into how the internet amplifies our own interests as well as bad actors, privacy concerns and regulation around the world, content moderation, the economy and on-demand jobs …

I could go on, but you need to look for yourself. Here’s the link, go …