John C. Abell

NBC’s Olympic contortions

Jul 31, 2012 21:43 UTC

It’s a toss-up which of this summer’s Olympics controversies will be the one most remembered. Twitter’s censorship (er, enforcement of terms of service) of an NBC critic and Empty Seat-gate are strong contenders. But for me NBC’s decision to tape-delay and edit live events after bragging that it would provide unprecedented real-time online access takes the gold.

Somehow our emotional attachment to television — and not video — remains incredibly strong. How else to explain the torrent of hate begat by NBC’s online blackout and broadcast delay of the Olympics opening ceremony in a day and age when alternatives and workarounds abound and time-shifting itself is considered a basic human right?

No, this feels like an “Occupy TV” moment: We, the 99 percent are galled that NBC won’t give us what we want when we want it, and that NBC is doing it because of a profit motive that requires it to manufacture appointment TV.

Over the weekend, Dan Levy, of sports site Bleacher Report, tweeted: “Folks, to think NBC cares about our complaints is ridiculous. They don’t care about sports fans. They care about ratings. We knew this.” NYU professor and media watchdog Jay Rosen tweeted in response: “Have you ever noticed how often people use the word ‘ratings’ as a synonym for ‘…so  just shut up.’”

NBC can, more or less, do what it wants with the games as it paid $1.2 billion for them. Its goal is to make a profit despite the eye-popping licensing fee and the tens of millions more in production costs. It is about the ratings, like it or not.

Facebook needs a new CEO

Jul 26, 2012 21:44 UTC

Facebook has now gone through its first trial by fire as a public company, slightly exceeding revenue expectations (with $1.18 billion) but showing a big loss in its first reported quarter ($157 million). Facebook shares were pummeled in after-hours trading; the company’s market cap has been slashed in half in just 10 weeks.

This is a bad, bad situation for Facebook’s early shareholders, 97% of whom are individual, retail investors – unlike those at the other big tech titans, which are majority-held by institutions: Google (68%) and Apple (67%). That Facebook’s percentage is so high suggests that Facebook is a stock for the masses. The masses need a hero.

That hero is not Mark Zuckerberg. He needs to get out of the way – not because we can judge him a disaster based on a single’s earnings period, but because he isn’t playing to his strength. He’s letting down the average folks who saw something shiny and new, but are now seeing shades of overhyped tech redux.

Finally, a reason to exclaim Yahoo!

Jul 17, 2012 18:15 UTC

Forget the cloud wars, the tablet wars and whither Digg. The summer tech news doldrums just got a jolt. Now we have a real story.

One of Google’s earliest and most respected employees, the highly visible Marissa Mayer, has left the search giant to become the CEO of Yahoo. This kind of thing doesn’t happen all that often, since Google is still one of the top workplaces in Silicon Valley and, even with its stock price well off historical highs, still considered an ascendant company in the high-stakes, “live fast and die hard” high-tech industry.

But most interesting is why Mayer is moving on: Not to relive her youth at a startup and prove that she isn’t a one-hit wonder. No, Mayer has agreed to move not to the garage but to the corner office to fix one of the tech industry’s most infamous basket cases.

50 shades of like

Jul 13, 2012 14:39 UTC

We are losing our faith in TV news as fast as those high-speed chases it’s so happy to show us. At the same time, we’re driving like maniacs on the social-media highway, letting it all hang out with the top down.

What do they have to do with each other? Both are advertiser-supported media. One prints money, the other not so much, at least not yet. And yet one is on the downswing, the other ascendant. What does this say about human nature and tapping into elusive and guilty pleasures?

In its annual poll, Gallup Politics found that only 21 percent of respondents expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in TV news – less than half what it was when the poll was first conducted in 1993, but down only a point from last year.

Protecting Twitter from its own hubris

Jul 6, 2012 13:27 UTC

Twitter created a bit of a stir late last week by cutting off LinkedIn. Ostensibly this was to project a consistent look and feel for tweets as the company adds features like threaded conversations, which LinkedIn didn’t convey. People who have accounts on both services will no longer have their tweets appear on their LinkedIn profile pages. It’s hard to know how much these updates will be missed on the business-minded network, which distinguishes itself by hosting a more focused conversation than “anything goes” Twitter. But the practical effect is that if you want to be heard in both places you’ll have to repeat yourself, unless you choose to do all your updates from LinkedIn, which still feeds one way to Twitter. More likely, you won’t because it’s too much of a bother.

Bad for LinkedIn. Much worse for Twitter.

Twitter’s ability to pipe in to other networks is a big reason for its popularity, and in doing so it has aggrandized other networks. All this has been, to the outside observer, symbiotic: People like to share their tweets everywhere they hang out; networks benefit from all that chatter and Twitter gets its hooks into everything.

In cutting off LinkedIn, Twitter doesn’t seem to be adopting the “first taste is free” business model it has previously practiced. That’s what creates addicts who can then be charged through the nose. Now Twitter seems to be calculating that isolationism is a shrewd business strategy, that it has less to lose by pulling back on sharing agreements than the networks it drops.