Monthly Archives: November 2009

Murdoch Kicks off the Fight for the Future of Media

This New York Times story about Bing and News Corp. today kicked off what is sure to be a major narrative in Media Business news for the forseeable future.

Murdoch and News Corp want to de-index their content from Google’s search engine and sign an exclusive deal with Microsoft’s Bing to crawl their content. If it works it could enable a new revenue stream for the beleagured content industries and change the paradigm for monetizing news online.

Murdoch has been pretty much the sole voice of charging for access to content in the the internet age, erecting a subscription only wall for the Wall Street Journal online and promising to do the same with many of his other news organizations.

But he hasn’t done it yet. Not for a lack of ability, but because the internet news environement hasn’t been ready for it yet. Because doing so challenges the whole paradigm of the “free advertiser supported internet” to which we all, consciously or unconsciously, subscribe. Under this model you want your site crawled by as many searches as possible to drive eye-balls to drive advertising. Give it all away. More hits, more ads, more money. So restricting access doesn’t make sense.

The reason this is such a big deal story in media is that it represents the first real sign that the free-everything internet model could eventually be reined back in to a more restricted, more effectively monetized model. It’s like the difference between your major metropolitan newspaper and your local free weekly.

The free weekly gives it all away in the hope of reaching as many eyeballs as possible for its advertisers. But, as anyone who’s read a free weekly on the bus for fifteen minutes and then tosses it away knows, this model doesn’t lend itself to quality content. If we lived in a world of only free weeklies, we might have plenty of concert reviews, but who would watch over public life?

By showing a willingness to pay for access, Bing is buying itself some great publicity and some important corporate friends. Microsoft is a powerful enough entity with enough money behind it that it can actively shape the future of the internet with deals like this one. But will it work?

It’s not clear how the proposition of Bing paying to crawl News Corp’s sites will combine with Murdoch’s earlier stated plan of erecting pay walls for content. Is Murdoch abandoning that plan and passing the buck on paying from the reader to the search engine? Or is he proposing both in combination, creating one revenue stream from subscribers and one from search engines?

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Age in the Age of Wikipedia

It started, as most good things do, with an episode of “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” Watching Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the ex-Seinfeld star, carry her own show and thinking “she looks good” I began to wonder, how old is she?

So I checked on Wikipedia

Which is kinda old to be that hot.

Which got me thinking, should I be able to find that out so easily? Do I really want to know? What does age mean in the age of Wikipedia?

Age for actresses used to be a closely guarded secret. Sure people knew your age when you started out as a starlet, but once you disapeared into the repetitive birthdays of 20’s and 30’s people lost track. To the public you were ageless, there was no particular number attached in anyone’s mind but perhaps your family.

But Julia Louis-Dreyfus is 48.

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The Comeback of Construction

What do you see in this photograph? If you’re a fan of AMC’s period piece hit “Mad Men” you might recognize Don Draper and his wife Betty out for an evening of dinner and dancing. But you don’t have to be a fan of the show to look at this photograph and take in the dense layers of meaning and exquisite constructedness of this scene. This is more than a man and wife at dinner, it’s a picture of a vibrant culture in progress. Take some time to study this picture. Everything in this frame is loaded with connotation, a plethora of cultural information coded into visual symbols. This is the true genius at the crux of “Mad Men’s” high brow appeal – it takes us back to a culture that valued and communicated with these symbols. A pre-post-modern culture where signifiers had a clear association to signified. A culture of meaning.

In many ways “Mad Men” traces the fall of this perfectly constructed 1950’s society, reminding us as it nostalgizes that this straight-jacket society was far from perfect. “Mad Men” never forgets to show us that this culture was socially and behaviorally homogenized, racist, sexist, and severely limited opportunity for many. But it was something. A shared something hanging over everything, inflecting life by its mere presence, inescapably shaping you by your relationship to it. It was constructed and agreed upon and provided a stable narrative and worldview based on shared mythologies, dreams, and values.

And in the midst of our aggressively egalitarian politically correct efforts to erase society as our grandparents knew it, people are finding that they miss something about the good old days. The sophistication of a man in a suit and top hat, the elegance of a lady in an evening gown, the chivalry of a traditional date. The cultural codes that shaped our world for so long have been replaced by a one-size fits all code of jeans and whatever-you-want. A deconstructed, post-modern, supply-your-own meaning culture.

And it works. To an extent. Because it offers people ample freedom to do their own thing. But people are finding that they miss some of the benefits of construction. We are living in an age of overwhelming and disorienting freedom. Freedom is a great thing, but like music without measures there comes a point when the absence of structure leads to the dissolution of meaning. Music becomes noise.

And as a society we’re getting tired of the noise. Young people shaping culture today are making important efforts to bring back rhythm and meter from the void. Costumes, customs, ways of standing and moving and speaking, a return of construction is in progress all around us. In entertainment the recent popularity of pageantry flaunting shows like “Gossip Girl” and “Mad Men” remind us of the good and bad sides of construction. But there’s no denying there is a fascination with these shows, in large part because the worlds they take us into are heavily constructed and an appealing fantasy in a time when no such layers exist in most of our everyday lives.

I see this fascination as the early stages of a movement to re-embrace the construction of society, one that will hopefully learn from the mistakes of cultures past, respecting the importance of freedom and individual choice while steering away from the dangers of mindless, culture-less, Wal-Mart shopping sweat-pants wearing apathy.

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