Friend-of-Radar Joel Gershon shot and co-produced a really incredible mini-documentary (13 minutes) called "Wasteland," about "gleaners" who mine for recyclables and other cultural detritus at the Nonthaburi Landfill in Thailand.
It's amazing to see how many recognizable brands end up there. And yet not amazing at all. The gleaner culture is also very interesting; even though it's all about eking a living from other people's garbage, there's an ethic of sharing; if you find something valuable first, no one else can redeem it. And, despite the stink, the dirt, and the disease involved in the job, they seem to have about as much job satisfaction as your average big city office proles.
Current.tv (possible presidential contender, eco-warrior, and erstwhile Internet inventor Al Gore is the chairman and founder) has an interesting model; videos uploaded to the site can be "greenlighted" ("greenlit"?) for distribution on cable by viewers. Thus far, this video has been greenlighted by everyone who's voted.
Congratulations, Joel. Keep up the good work.
What is a bit surprising, however, is who the buyer isn't -- namely, another record label. EMI and Warner have been doing the mating dance for years at this point. This seems like one more tiny bit of evidence that the long rising tide of media consolidation may finally be receding. A decade ago, there were six major labels, then there were five, then there were four. I, for one, am happy that the number won't be falling to three any time soon. Innovation and creativity are hard enough to encourage in an oligopoly, but virtually impossible in a triopoly (witness U.S. network television, or wireless telecom).
Almost as interesting is who the buyer is -- namely, private equity firm Terra Nova. This is the second purchase of a major label by private equity in recent years (the first was Warner). I don't want to read too much into it, but I think this all hints at a larger shift of market risk away from established media firms, toward smaller, savvier capital -- which could be very good for both creators and consumers. Of course, everything that comes apart eventually falls back together -- it's a cycle, after all -- but in the meantime, maybe I can actually start listening to commercial radio again (even broadcasting behemoth Clear Channel's selling out to private equity and selling off stations).
Jeremy Silver, a former EMI exec and current smartypants, has got more to say about the deal here.
It sems like every few years a group of concerned parents or (as in the case) doctors, send out the call to restrict children's advertising on television. So far, the industry has (barely) self-regulated, and this will likely continue, despite congressional turnover next month. in this latest call for regulation: "The group is demanding that TV ads on kids' shows be halved and that junk-food ads be banned during shows viewed predominately by those under age 8. It is also requesting that alcohol ads be limited to product pictures and text and erectile-dysfunction ads be limited to after 10 p.m." ok, childhood obesity and its attendant health problems are reaching epidemic proportions - one that directly impacts the work of pediatricians. I'm not sure I personally agree with the limitations on alcohol and erectile dysfunction ads and its tougher to understand the impact these ads have on children's health - it starts to veer uncomfortably close to censorship. What seems to be missing from this latest round is any recognition on the impact of product placement in TV that is not specifically targeted towards children but is immensely popular with them. case in point: American Idol. I defy you to find a child dedicated to that show who can't immediately identify the 3 major sponsors. If the purpose of the proposal was not to directly affect policy but to increase the discourse around children's advertising (as I suspect it was), then the American Academy of Pediatrics has sorely missed a critical issue.
Larry just forwarded me a link to this: Chomsky vs. Foucault on GooTube. I love the hairy 70s intellectual in the background of this screenshot:
How did the folks at Google lose this bidding war? Our favorite prematurely canceled television show, Arrested Development, has been revived -- sort of. In a (probably fruitless) effort to compete with GooTube, MSN Video has acquired the rights to distribute the show online, to showcase its new-n-improved™ Web video player. The first five episodes are now available, and all 53 will be rolled out within a year.
This is almost as smart an idea as the Zune is stupid. Arrested Development, with its rabid online fan base, is the perfect asset for Microsoft to lure geeky Firefoxers such as ourselves to its IE-only video site. And they seem to be making money, to boot -- each episode is punctuated by two interstitial video ads (a/k/a "commercials"). No skipping allowed. The one I muted was for a Chase credit card.
And I have to give credit where it's due -- unlike many other Web video players (Motherload, anybody?), this thing actually works -- provided you have the latest IE, WMP and Flash plug-ins installed. Once the DRM gets hacked so I can skip the ads, maybe I'll actually use it.
Bad news for all those big brand marketers who have spent millions to secure the rights to add major label music to their TV ad campaigns, in the hopes of riding those sonic coattails.
I just taught the first installment of my USC Annenberg course, "Music as Communication," for the fall semester. One of the ways in which I introduced the course's themes to the students was playing songs for them and asking them to name the product the song advertised on TV. In a class of about 25 college students pre-selected to have an interest in music and communication, here were the results:
Sheesh. Even I know what the Chemical Brothers song advertises, and I don't even watch TV. In part, these results show the waning influence of television programming and advertising in the media consumption (and production) habits of today's youth. But maybe it also shows that young people's relationship to music is becoming more fluid, complex, and self-determined; the kids know the songs and the brands, they just don't identify the one with the other. Or maybe the commercials just sucked.
Strangest of all -- I played the new R&B hit "Me & U" by Cassie, released about two weeks ago, as part of a different section of the class on genre and race/gender/SES interpellation. Even though the song has yet to be used on television in conjunction with any commercial products (other than Cassie herself), several students in the class immediately identified Cassie's audience as Volkswagon Jetta-driving females.
So in other words, this song which hasn't been used in a TV commercial yet was more successful at evoking a specific make and model than songs which have appeared in car commercials in recent months.
Go figure. VW's agency should definitely get on the stick with this one.
CBS just announced that its thirteenth season of Survivor, due to premiere next month, was shot on the atoll of Aitutaki, in the Cook Islands.
There's nothing particularly shocking about this locale (in fact, spoilers revealed it before CBS's official announcement). What is shocking is the way they're dividing the tribes this season -- not randomly, as in earlier seasons, or by gender, as they have more recently, but BY RACE!!!! There will be a Caucasian tribe, a Hispanic tribe, an African-American tribe, and an Asian-American tribe (I guess there's no room for Native Americans, let alone "multiracial" people like my son). Eventually, Survivor will integrate the tribes (as they always do), but who can doubt that the entire season -- down to the pitched battle between the "final four" -- will be inevitably viewed through the racial lens?
I don't even know how to respond to this. Is CBS revealing America's racial burlesque for what it is -- an arbitrary, temporary and ultimately meaningless categorization more valuable for dividing people than for uniting them -- or simply cashing in on the inevitable public outcry (read: free marketing) that always results from poking at the still-festering sore of our nation's racist history? Or is racism now just a quaint artifact of centuries gone by, and racial identity reduced to the kind of paper-thin group affiliations that usually characterize "reality" television? Given the egregious disproportion in access to healthcare, wealth, education, and so forth that still exist between so-called racial groups in America today, I simply can't accept the latter interpretation.
Anyway, from a pure business context, I wonder whether the boost this gives CBS's flagging franchise will be worth the fallout. We shall see...
P.S. I was just reading Henry Jenkins' new book Convergence Culture, which has an excellent chapter on the culture of Survivor spoilers.
P.P.S. If you have any question whether the racialized division of contestants on Survivor will actually provide fodder for stereotype, bias, and other assorted manifestations of American bigotry, look no further than Rush Limbaugh's predictions about how the various races will fare in the contest. Sneak peak: it's "not going to be fair if there's a lot of water events." Ugh.
So MSN scored the syndication rights to Arrested Development, the first time a television show has turned to the Web to sell syndication rights. (HDNet and G4 scored the HD and basic cable rights, respectively). MS plans to stream the episodes for free, with an ad supported model. While details on the terms of the deal are sketchy at best (three years exclusive but no mention of money), I have to wonder if there may be a hope for Family Guy-style resurrection in the works. Perhaps I'm just unable to accept the idea of AD gone forever, and I'm grasping at straws, but its not inconceivable that AD might find a larger and more loyal audience online and on demand. (FOX did the show a disservice by constantly moving it around on the schedule). Sure, resurrecting an animated show three years after its cancellation is probably much easier than wrangling a live-action cast back into production, but a girl can dream, can't she? The viral power of the Internet, the ability to watch these shows for free and on demand, the proven popularity of video online - maybe all these factors will conspire to create a larger AD phenomenon online that FOX (or HBO, or Showtime, etc) will take note of - because watching the DVDs just isn't enough for me. I need my Bluths now.
The House passed a bill yesterday that increases the fines for "indecency" on television and radio stations about tenfold, to $325,000 per violation, with a cap of $3 million per show. Holy shit, that's a serious amount of money! The Senate has already passed its version of the bill, and Bush has sworn to sign it (not that he ever vetoes anything, anyway).
Seriously, this is bad news for a number of reasons:
I can only hope that America will come to its senses before we're living under information lockdown, to a degree that would make even Joe McCarthy shudder.
The saddest thing is that the House passed the bill 379-35. We're ashamed to say our own congressman, the usually sensible Adam Schiff, was among the signers. Here's a list of the brave souls who didn't capitulate (33 Dems, 1 Repub, 1 Indy):
Sánchez, Linda T.