Thursday, June 23, 2005

"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them" Albert Einstein

Gannett and Belo have warned investors, both saying not to expect significant improvements in the second half of this year. The fundamentals of ad supported measured media are changing. Industry best practices used to generate the top lines of ratings and revenue are out of touch with the marketplace. The cold hard reality is the business model that delivered results yesterday and for decades prior will just not continue to produce. Dr. Gary Hamel may have said it best...

"Dakota tribal wisdom says that when you discover you're on a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Of course, there are other strategies. You can change riders. You can get a committee to study the dead horse. You can benchmark how other companies ride dead horses. You can declare that it's cheaper to feed a dead horse. You can harness several dead horses together. But after you've tried all these things, you're still going to have to dismount. The temptation to stay on a dead horse can be overwhelming...Denial is tragic. Delay is deadly...Success has never been more transient...The companies that are creating new wealth are not just getting better; they're getting different - profoundly different...the future is not an echo of the past"

It's not about hiring more sales people and training them to make calls they're never going to make, it's not about plug and play content solutions (e.g., jockless juke boxes in radio, or opening up more weekend and weeknight hours to paids in broadcast television). It's about leadership. Please allow me to again quote the good Doctor Hamel

"Am I learning as fast as the world is changing? Senior executives have the same chance to be radicals as everyone else - but it is hard, because they have more to unlearn. Look at a company that is underperforming, and invariably you will find a management team that is the unwitting prisoner of its own out-of-date beliefs. When it comes to business concept innovation, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle...better execution won't fix a broken business concept."

Most of the initiatives now employed to create revenue growth and the majority of cost cutting moves presently popular are unsustainable. The effective solution has nothing to do with beating up the station people, or one-time savings from cutting out labor. The problem is at the top of today's media organizations, this is where change must happen. I remain optimistic, as I have said before, certain that the glass is half-full, I am more concerned with who is pouring. You may read my earlier comments about the crisis in music radio here and the real problems facing media ad sales here.

For a great many years the ad spend flowed like tap water into electronic media, these riches often bought programming the time needed to fix any product issues (as an owner of CBS affiliates in the 1980s I've been there). It has been said that during the final days of the last century a trained seal could have produced the same results as most general managers, it was hard to get out of the way of the money. People got paid large sums of cash to show up, manage the inventory and keep the cost of separating the commercials and running the joint to a minimum, ah the good ole days. Those days are not returning, welcome to the world of managing decline, of entropy, of systemic collapse. A new day where management is proud to say they were down this quarter but not as much as the market. This condition is, in my opinion, iatrogenic (a five dollar way of saying we, the experts, the professionals, did this to ourselves, we put the business in the hospital).

Today's challenges are a perfect storm of product and sales issues. There are no silver bullets. Wall Street only loves those that promise and deliver growth. While this can happen for broadcast it will demand a fresh perspective, perhaps a radical point of view and a brutal honesty to finally face the problems and the realities of the situation. Broadcast still enjoys a great starting point to go forward, radio alone reaches 94% of the US population, over 228 million unique listeners every week. What happens next is far more important than what has happened before but serious consideration and bold action are no longer optional. Creativity and innovation must be high on the agenda of every CEO, business as usual is a death sentence. Free over the air broadcasting is at the crossroads, it's time to stop making excuses, time to stop delegating the blame; let's go cold turkey on the graduate level dog ate my homework stuff.

Objectivity is illusory. You need only listen to the comments and questions during the next round of conference calls to understand this to be true. As Don Quixote tells Sancho Panza "This that appears to you as a barber's basin is for me Mambrino's helmet, and something else again to another person." Broadcasting can be reinvented just as the dead tree guys will yet find a way to survive. To start we need to make something happen on the air and on the street. It will be hard work, it will require inviting freaks to the party, real show business folks, the odd balls, the gifted creatives, the hardcore news animals, the geeks, and all those other "difficult to manage" types. And we need to fill the station with them...programming, sales, accounting, marketing, every department gets a carney, a certifiable loon. Every all hands meeting filled with dissent and snark, pregnant with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Every department manager gets to take a flyer, make an educated bet, or guess, and spin the wheel. We have to learn how to fail faster to succeed sooner. We have to have the guts to do something for no other reason than because it makes great TV or killer radio. Once it's fun to work in the station again you will see it on the tube, it will be heard on the speakers, you will feel it in the halls. We have to do what it takes to make a difference again. It will have to get messy before it can get any better. Walking into a station lobby need not feel like walking into an investment bank, this is the first clue we have a problem. Let's put the show back in business to stay in business. If I am being wrong-headed here, should I be missing something, should you sense that this is too harsh please let me know. I remain open to suggestion and will reply to your email.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it" Aristotle

Doctor David will not be writing his book, Everything Is Miscellaneous, online, however, he does share some details on his book and the book auction process via his newsletter found here. Good luck David, your concept sounds very cool.

Thomas Bleha, writing in the May/June Foreign Affairs (Down to the Wire), makes the argument that the USA has fallen behind in broadband and says broadband deserves to be a national priority. "In the first three years of the Bush administration, the United States dropped from 4th to 13th place in global rankings of broadband Internet usage" he writes. Japan leads, and the USA is even further behind Japan in wireless, mobile-phone-based Internet access. A good overview, important issue, you may find it here.

A star is born. If you have not yet caught Jimmy Cramer's Mad Money, do, it's a gem. A work in progress, it has the makings of perhaps the best investment show (equity markets) on television, and certainly the best programming move CNBC has made in a long while. Cramer is the whole show, love his energy, clearly the man comes to play. It's not only good TV (i.e., entertaining), it is also fun, a rare playful attitude is at work here (hey, there is no rule the street must be dull and boring). Once you've seen it you may agree that someone needs to get that chair off the set. Now if they would only stop over programming Squawk and let those boys play. Booyah Ski Daddy.

Thanks to Doc, an excellent item written by Douglas Adams in 1999, well worth the time, you may find it here. I am reminded of a comment by Bob Pittman. His daughter hears a song on the radio and says "where are the pictures daddy?" Cohort replacement is a beautiful thing.

My sales mentor was Kevin B. Sweeney, a bigger-than-life original, a character for certain, he could have jumped into this life directly from the pages of Damon Runyon. Kevin was the kind of original thinker and carney spirit that once dominated the leadership of American media. An incredible pitchman, a showman of rare gifts and a brilliant gentleman, Kevin constantly preached the targeting of those giant newspaper dollars. Way back in the seventies it was Kevin who first predicted the death of afternoon newspapers. Thanks to Jeff, here is a strong overview by Dave Morgan of where the dead tree guys are at today. Dave's writing is informed by his attendance at the most recent gathering of the NAA gang. The RAB's George Hyde has done an excellent job in creating an exceptional anti-newspaper pitch, strongly recommended. Not able to agree 100% with Jeff on the classifieds not making it with broadcast media. Broadcasting is actually not broad any longer. Broadcast has the potential to be a very powerful recruiting tool. The limiting step to broadcasters getting bigger recruitment share is related to a rather simple lack of focus and lack of effort. Lots of smart HR folks use broadcast to get the attention of passive candidates (those not looking for work). As Sweeney always said "people with jobs don't read the want ads." My first Internet CMO gig was with an online classifieds provider, we were partners with broadcasters, NBC among others. Broadcast and online make a wonderful pair and it's early yet - as a group broadcasters have not yet taken full advantage of the Internet. The dead tree guys are certainly in trouble but discussing their future openly, something too many other MSM are refusing to do ("Everything is just fine, thank you"- hey it ain't)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"You can teach a kid everything else in the game but you can't teach speed" Al Davis

Charlie Rose should have been better prepared, could have taken his recent opportunity with Google CEO Eric Schmidt to commit some great television, it was not to be. Some of what Schmidt was allowed to say was interesting. Here's what he said about the state of the enterprise and their goals:

Everybody searching Google should only have to get one answer and that answer should always be right. It is very important that Google succeed in only giving one right answer.

Great stuff that. Of course it speaks to personalization, moreover, it gets to the real issue - deeply understanding the question. Schmidt talked about focus

70% on core business
20% on adjacent businesses
10% on new ideas

MSM should take note. Imagine the potential - the simply incredible outcomes possible from investing 30% on adjacent businesses and new ideas. A brief on the Rose/Schmidt interview from Tom Foremski here.

Mel Phillips has started a blog. Another star of the RKO tribe, he has done a great many fine things in his career. I warmly recommend his daily post, added his blog to my morning coffee, you may find it here.

Speaking of RKO - over the weekend read the memos of Ron Jacobs found in his book KHJ Inside Boss Radio. These should be required reading for anyone leading a creative organization. Ron understands creative folks don't want to be managed, they want to be led. If you must manage someone may I suggest you manage yourself. A great line in this regard comes from another RKO icon - the great Paul Drew who said (to Program Directors) "Remember the second word in your title"

Friday, June 17, 2005

" You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." Steve Jobs

The above from Jobs' Stanford Commencement address. It's a good read, you'll find it here.

Jelly Helm is creative director at Wieden + Kennedy. In preparing an upcoming speech I found a strong Helm quote on listening to solve problems. "The first thing we do when we meet with clients is listen. We try to figure out what their problems are. Then we come back with questions, not solutions. We write these out and put them on the wall. And then we circle the ones that we think are interesting. More often than not, the questions hold the answer." The fine art of listening is indeed a powerful approach but it requires hard work and thinking. Two requirements that guarantee rare application.

Pac-Man's 25th - cheers!. Amazing to think that in 1980 Pac-Man was state-of-the-art and to many it remains so today. That same year I found myself involved in both the FM radio revolution (working for RKO in Chicago where we dared to debut the nation's first 24-hour news department on a commercial FM music station. "Incredible music. Credible information.") and the last days of AM music radio (taking a "lifestyle" news/talk format off to return music programming on the legendary WCFL). Both stations engaged big name talent to host the programs and to report the news. Our enterprise news initiative at WCFL delivered exceptional reportage and was responsible for getting significant state legislation enacted. At the time both moves were viewed as bold, contrarian, audacious. Both exceeded expectations for those very reasons - nobody liked it but the listeners. Best of all we had fun - we went to work each day to commit great radio, to stage a fresh, engaging show.

Leave it to the Peters crew to re-invent, refresh, re-imagine the newswire. Adding this to my morning coffee, check it out here.

This just in - David Weinberger has a book deal. Congrats! Bravo! Just can't wait for the 2007 publication - perhaps he will favor us with some of the work in progress. [Technorati tag EverythingIsMiscellaneous]

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose" Bill Gates

When my friend Niblick takes the bandwidth to suggest something it qualifies as an event. Niblick's economy in warm sanction is well known, one of the many reasons I respect the gentleman. A bright guy, when he first suggested Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner I placed an order, without reservation. Niblick's perfect score for outstanding suggestion remains perfect. I add my "must read" imprimatur. Steven Levitt would benefit from engaging a media coach, he has done "ok" in the TV interviews I've seen, he could do much better.

"The conductor of the orchestra doesn't make a sound" Benjamin Zander

Lots of emails on WCBS-FM and WJMK. Intend to reply to each - standby.

Here are two writings, each makes a case, each pov is different, each affords opportunity for your comments. You may find Sean Ross' writing here, and the view from Motown here. Another Edison VP, Tom Webster, offers his view of the WCBS-FM migration to online here. Allan Sniffin has dedicated a board to the WCBS-FM conversation here.

Lots of folks buzzing about Les Moonves' comments (i.e., "we shot someone"). What's interesting about what Les said serves to confirm he's a video not an audio guy. People don't watch TV stations they watch programs. People do feel strongly about "their radio stations" and radio is different than TV in this regard. Folks don't have a favorite TV station, they do tend to have a favorite radio station. Moreover, since this wireless audio delivery represents a media behavior involving personal preferences, personal choice, people become attached to stations at a certain emotional level, it becomes part of personal life, it is the companion not to be messed with by the producers. As we continue moving from the old world of customer passive, producer-centric to producer passive, customer-centric (assisted by our good friend technology), the audience will order the changes.

Fast Company blogs the WCBS-FM format flip here and you may review comments from readers here. If you want to check out the FC guys best to do it soon, they're on the block and may or may not be around.

The WFMU crowd weighs in on Jack here. Wired news puts up their take here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult" Seneca

To many now working in the radio dodge, the format changes at WCBS-FM and WJMK last week were endings darker than Mahler's 6th. The negative reaction to the format changes reached beyond the usual inside baseball chatter. As well it should, the emotions, sensibilities, preferences and media habits of real people are involved here. Large numbers of listeners had to face the facts - someone had taken away their radio station. Pop quiz. Please name the media franchises that have enjoyed a 30 year run (WCBS-FM) or a 20 year run (WJMK). They're out there but not in significant numbers. The simple facts are these two stations have staged the oldies format longer than the time most radio folks have worked in the trade. While attending Pace in Brooklyn and The New School in Manhattan, I was witness to the WCBS-FM oldies debut. At the time it was viewed as a radical, almost irrational move. I came to know Dick Bozzi, the gentleman who cooked up the WCBS-FM oldies idea. He launched the oldies format without any corporate approval and as a result found himself out of CBS and into RKO where Paul Drew named him head of FM programming (based at KRTH as PD). I later worked with him to launch an oldies station in the 1970s, learning about his philosophy of oldies programming and life in the process. A musician by training, Dick is engaging, bright, a thinker and a doer. He found most of radio programming's conventional wisdom to be less than valuable, some downright goofy, he created his own rules. My take on the format changes at WCBS-FM and WJMK is bravo! Let's celebrate the amazing good runs. Let's keep this stuff in perspective. Broadway show with a 30 year run? Network TV show with a 20 year run? Local TV show with a 30 year run? What WCBS-FM and WJMK have acheived is greatness, nothing less. Dave Logan and cast leave the stage with a weekly box office (audience) of about 1.5 million - cheers! Charley Lake and performers drop the final curtain with over 750,000 happy customers served weekly - kudos! Rather than now comment about the decision, the rationale, the new format or opine with any second-guessing on what happened here I choose to applaud two stations for what they did right, doing it right for decades...something few others can claim to have accomplished.

Great things happen to great people. The gifted Kipper McGee is named program director of WLS. This guy's career is just getting started and you can make book on this - McGee is the goods, a great talent.

(Full disclosure - I have worked for Viacom/CBS/Infinity. Kipper McGee is a client of my present employer.)