Archive for December, 2014

Emagine Eschews Cinematic Terror-Dictate

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 4.53.05 PMIt is so outrageous one would think it was a plot created in Hollywood.  A communist country cyber attacks a major movie company preparing to release a movie offensive to that country. Moreover, that country threatens violence should the studio place the film into theaters. And so it is pulled from distribution. In the case of Sony Pictures’ “The Interview,” life is truly stranger than fiction.

Thankfully, in the name of freedom of speech and good, old-fashioned entrepreneurship, the show is going on with, most notably, Emagine showing the Seth Rogan/James Franco satire for free (or donation to charity) in select theaters.  The move is a stroke of PR genius by Emagine CEO Paul Glantz.  While touting freedom of expression Glantz’s actions also symbolically and publicly does what each of us would like to do: thumb our collective noses at North Korea while telling Sony to demonstrate a bit more backbone in the future.

And while Emagine reports it will lose between $15,000-$20,000 for the free showings, the brand equity it is building is incalculable, especially at a time when our society is growing weary of terrorist threats dictating our lives.  Moreover, from an immediate economic standpoint, losses in ticket sales should be defrayed in large part by concession sales.  As industry consultant Jack Oberleitner recently told Marketplace regarding the theater business: “We’re now in the popcorn business.” To be sure, concessions represent 40% of a theater’s profits with profit margins at 85%. As a comedian once joked of exorbitant candy prices, “It’s no wonder they keep their offerings in jewelry cases.”

While Sony Pictures did finally come around, inking a deal with YouTube to show “The Interview” online and on demand, their image will be tough to repair, internally and externally.  And while such threats must be taken seriously, giving in to cyber bullies and terrorist states is far more dangerous.


The 6 Months That Changed Detroit Media Forever

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

01Everywhere you go in and around Detroit this week, you hear talk about the death of a true media icon- Bill Bonds, the news anchor at undisputed #1 WXYZ-TV from the ’70s through the early ’90s. He was a bona fide TV star and attracted a now unfathomably huge audience of both fans and what would now be called “haters.” As one of his former producers once told me, “With Bill, we could have run test patterns and Bonanza reruns in between newscasts and still been #1.”

I never worked with Bonds or competed directly against him, but I ended up in his Detroit News obituary over the weekend because of a little insight I shared with a reporter. I remarked that “Detroit really became the competitive news market it is today after he left Channel 7.”

While I know that statement to be absolutely true, I decided to do some digging about the context of his departure, as I was working in TV outside of the market at the time. Sure enough, it was the first in a series of coincidental events over just six months that changed the Detroit media market forever.

WXYZ-TV fired Bill Bonds on January 11, 1995 after a series of alcohol-related issues. At the time, the station’s general manager told Crain’s Detroit Business “We are not concerned” about his departure. As a reporter noted, “Life without Bill Bonds isn’t expected to be much different from life with him at Channel 7 – except calmer – said executives.”

How wrong that proved to be. Bonds’ departure from WXYZ paved the way to parity in the Detroit TV market. WDIV-TV, which had been nipping at WXYZ’s heels as a strong #2 station, thanks to consistent anchors and strong NBC lead-ins, did what would have been unthinkable just a decade earlier and frequently overtook WXYZ in the ratings in the coming years making it, as one consultant called it in the late ’90s, “the most competitive two station race in the country.” Although, when I started at WDIV in 1996, 18 months after Bonds left WXYZ, many of the WDIV newscasts were still arranged in what can only be described as “Beat Bonds” mode. It took another year or so to break those habits in news rundowns and react to changes WXYZ had made after he left.

Just two weeks after Bonds was fired, on January 23, 1995, the O.J. Simpson trial began. The “Trial of the Century” was essentially free ratings-grabbing content that helped teach local TV stations how to attract an newscast audience without any local reporting. That proved to be catnip for cost-cutting managers in Detroit and everywhere else.

At the same time, starting in earnest with the February ratings period, new Fox affiliate WJBK-TV (which had recently switched from CBS) was adding news in the morning and establishing itself at 10 p.m. It was capitalizing on underserved day parts for news. The longtime #3 news operation (one 1995 article described its ratings in key news times as “anemic”) was establishing a point of difference rather than just trying to compete head-to-head-to-head.

In July of 1995, workers at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News went on strike. Without going into the gory details, it’s safe to write that the once-mighty newspapers were diminished by decreased circulation, hits on advertising and striking, experienced journalists who never returned.

The firing of the biggest TV audience draw the market has ever seen, the TV trial that helped form a “new normal,” the beginnings of three-way competition among TV outlets and the “game changing” newspaper strike all occurred within six months. Of course, the proliferation of the Internet (not to mention digital cable and satellite TV) had a greater impact on collective media than even this remarkable confluence of events. But that all happened over a much longer period of time. Much of what we see at work, in this market and others, is directly attributable to what happened in a fraction of 1995.

One additional note from the research for this piece. In February 1995, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that during the end of the Bonds Era at WXYZ-TV, a 30-second spot on the 11 p.m. news cost up to $3000 at both WXYZ and WDIV. In today’s dollars, according to two calculator websites, that’s $4670. A media buying professional tells me the most seen spent this year on a 30-second spot this year was just $1000. That, above all, explains the expansion into morning news, weekend morning news, late morning news, afternoon news, early evening news all, of course, with continuing budget cuts and restrictions. Like many businesses, TV stations have had to add volume to deliver mandated profits to their corporate owners.

Pink Floyd Fades to Dark, Louder Than Words

Friday, December 12th, 2014

UnknownThey went out very much as they came in, amid an almost other-worldly, ethereal landscape of thematic sound.  Perhaps not 60s psychedelic but still with a musical approach time appropriate yet rooted in their history.  That’s Pink Floyd’s newly-released and final album titled, “The Endless River.”

The record is a farewell to fans and also an ode to fallen band member Rick Wright.  In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, guitarist David Gilmour credits the keyboardist, who passed away in 2008, for providing the group’s melodic foundation around which all of their music was built. To go on, says Gilmour in the article, would be pointless.

Expanding upon music originally created in 1994 around Pink Floyd’s last album, “The Division Bell,” ‘River’ is largely and appropriately instrumental, in turn shining an especially bright light on Wright’s talents.  It is also a format that has worked well for the group over the years; just consider  their swan song, “Dark Side of the Moon.”  And, like most of Floyd’s work, the record is meant to be played in its entirety with each song melding into the next, something all too unfamiliar to music consumers (and creators) today.

And while Roger Waters (for better or for worse) has not been a part of a Pink Floyd recording since “The Final Cut” some 30 years ago, it is almost too bad he could not have been involved in some way with this final effort.  And just as it is not a stretch to discern that the theme of this album (the importance of communication in solving problems and furthering humanity), is at least partially rooted in the epic battles between Waters and his founding bandmates, could there not have been a truce for this ending opus?

After all, as Gilmour sings on ‘River’s’ last and only tune with words:

             It’s louder than words

            The sum of our parts

            The beat of our hearts

            Is louder than words.

Chicken S*** Nation Is Bad For Business

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Dont-be-a-chicken-shitChances are you’re part of a dubious club. Just about everyone is. In fact, we’re seeing more and more of your ilk all the time.

Chances are you’re like the client we had to fire last year. When I went out to her office to see her, and have a very difficult 45 minute conversation about why the relationship had to end, she asked “Why didn’t you just call me and tell me I wasn’t paying you enough to make it worth it?” For one, that wasn’t true. For another, as a human being, she deserved better. But she just couldn’t get over the fact that I wouldn’t take the easy way out.

Chances are you’ve done something like the PR agency rep who called last month on behalf of a potential client. She was looking for a Detroit-area firm to support the opening of a new location of her client’s chain. I explained that on one hand, we are very qualified as we often work with local or regional operations of national companies and we work daily with clients in fast-growing Downtown Detroit, where this business will be located. On the other hand, I explained that we don’t have much experience in her client’s industry, per se. Intrigued by our relevant experience, she asked for a proposal and needed it “tomorrow.” I cleared a big chunk of my next day to write the proposal. A month later and days away from opening, I still have not received any kind of acknowledgment or response. The referral source even followed up and received no apology from this rep, who took the easy way out.

This growing club – Chicken S*** Nation – avoids difficult business conversations at all costs. It’s like all of the rules of dating have extended to doing business. “I’m just not into them” means unanswered emails and calls. I guess we’re supposed to get the message that it’s time to move on? In a technology-enabled culture where couples break up via text and employees get fired via email, it’s no surprise that Chicken S*** Nation is growing in ranks.

It’s not just in relationships’ beginnings or ends. There’s almost a new adage in business that if your customer likes your work, he’ll tell you. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably not say anything and will start thinking about options behind your back.

Business can be fun. It can be rewarding. But it can also be hard. One of the hardest parts used to be having difficult conversations. It’s so tempting to make your challenging work life easier by just zooming by the tough stuff. But think about the people on the other end. Mutual respect dictates the same honesty and level of communications you would expect. You owe it to them to suck it up, talk about it the right way and give up your membership in Chicken S*** Nation.