Every campaigning politician recognizes the pattern. The media build up the candidate until his or her victory is a forgone conclusion, then begins the process of tearing the candidate down. Ascendancy and demise sell papers, so every candidate is always rising like a rocket or falling like a lead balloon. For a pundit to garner enough attention to retain the title of pundit requires that said pundit is 1) definitive, and 2) just ahead of the curve.
Pretty much the same holds true in the world of consumer electronics. Yesterday’s Next Big Thing is supplanted by today’s Next Big Thing. Just a few months ago technology pundits were tripping over themselves declaring of the rise of 3D in living rooms and theaters throughout the world a sure bet. 3D in every living room by 2015 was the sure thing flying cars by 2000 were in 1950. David Pogue was among a handful of pragmatists and questioned the hype just after CES 2010.
First of all, those glasses. E-w-w-w. Do we really want to have to put on glasses every time we sit down for some TV? Don’t we lose something when we look around the room to exchange glances, and we can’t see anyone’s eyes? Do we really want to nuzzle up to our fiancées and spouses with those things on?
Certainly very few (if any) consumer electronics or studio executives believed the hype earlier this year, but who’s going to argue when the mainstream media is declaring your latest and greatest a smashing success? You don’t get to run these huge companies without some understanding of your customers’ technology adoption rates – especially after the decades-long gestation of HDTV. They knew that standards battles loomed. A sober assessment of the 3D landscape shows the industry has been making reasonable investments in the technology. No film was slated to be released 3D-only. No television network was going to make 3D-only programming. No set manufacturer announced plans for 3D-only sets. Everything was not going 3D. Jennifer Aniston and Oprah were to remain 2D experiences.
Any wannabe technology pundit worth his blog’s revenue stream, can’t say, “Everything’s going fine. 3D is coming at a reasonable rate. What you want to see in 3D you can, and in a few years when you’re ready to buy new TVs there will be just enough 3D content available that you’ll consider a stereoscopic set.” What’s the fun in that? So here come the 3D obituaries.
Last week Adam Frucci asked in Gizmodo if 3D is already dying. The blog entry is not terribly over the top, but its overly simplified arguments and limited statistical sampling should be questioned. Frucci cites the downward trend of 3D revenue as a percentage of total box office receipts of five films since Avatar as evidence 3D may have peaked. He are the key flaws in his arguments:
- Five is an awfully small statistical sampling. It represents about half a year’s output. While acknowledging Avatar was unique — marketed as a 3D event, he fails to consider that the rest of the films sampled appeal to a younger demographic. Among preteens, mom and dad often make the decision whether the movie is watched in 2D or 3D. Price consciousness and concerns whether a squirmy eight year-old can stand to wear glasses for two hours factor into the decision.
- Frucci also assigns a direct relationship between the success of 3D in the theater with the success of 3D in the living room. That’s nowhere near a sure outcome. The television networks are not depending on 3D Hollywood fare to be the primary driver to build demand for 3D broadcasts. They are clearly betting on sports. ESPN and BSkyB are not looking to the studios to supply them with content, and Discovery is looking to produce its own non-fiction 3D content as well. The 3D set manufacturers don’t need Blu-Ray 3D players to drive sales as much as the article implies. Gamers and live broadcasts are their primary drivers.
It’s clear that many writers over-hyped 3D after CES and NAB 2010, but it’s also far too soon to declare 3D is dying. The technology will get more affordable, the glasses might go away, and producers will hone what content works best in the medium.
Unbelievable. Disney decided to pull the plug on WABC-TV with Cablevision in the New York area on Academy Awards Sunday. Sports fans throughout New York are thankful ABC didn’t have the broadcast rights to the Olympics or the Super Bowl. As of 7:30 PM EST, still no agreement.
Let’s assume there won’t be an agreement. Both Disney and Cablevision lose. ABC will face the ire of advertisers who won’t be reaching a couple of million viewers in an affluent market. Cablevision, already among the least loved companies in Greater New York, will rise to the top of the most hated list with a bullet. No small feat in a metro area that sports AIG, Citibank, ConEd, and the LIRR.
Cablevision is claiming Disney wants $1 per subscriber per month for the right to distribute WABC-TV. Cablevision already pays Disney for the Disney Chaneel, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, and the half dozen or so other outlets that provide repeats of SportsCenter round the clock. What am I not getting? Disney already broadcasts WABC over the air for free. WABC’s business model is to sell advertising. Cablevision helps Disney reach more ABC viewers, so ABC can sell more advertising.I’d
Let’s say Disney prevails, and every New Yorker’s cable bill goes up a buck. Customers get mad and switch to FIOS. Disney shakes down Verizon. Customers get mad and give up on TV. By then Lost will have run its course. Who’s going to miss TV? Customers might be mad at Cablevision tonight, but it won’t be long before Disney pays a price as well.
Everyone involved understands Disney’s challenges. Ad revenues for broadcasters across the spectrum are down as audiences shrink, but Disney needs to learn from those who have gone before — music labels and newspapers. Raising the price to the customer only exacerbates the problem.
Updated 9:00 PM 3/7/10 – New York Times reports someone blinked. This kind of brinkmanship is no way to treat customers.
For some time now it’s been fashionable to debunk The Long Tail. Even I have partaken of the sport at times in this blog. The Economist has a taken the middle ground in the debate with a leader and article this week. Surely niche content has grown, but more interestingly it has not been at the expense of the blockbuster. Big hits in cinema, television, and music are bigger than ever. All this while overall media consumption per capita has remained relatively constant.
So who are the losers? Mid-tier content. The number 15 prime time television show has lost audience, as has the number 30 CD and the mid-sized city daily newspaper.
Creative types who are accustomed to lavishing money on moderately appealing projects will have to do more with less. Or they must learn how to move between big-budget blockbusters and niche, small-budget fare, observing the different genre and budget constraints that apply in these worlds. A few forward-looking folk, such as Steven Soderbergh, a film-maker, are already doing this. Some will find shelter. Premium television channels such as HBO, which are built on passion more than popularity, offer some protection from chill market winds. So do state broadcasters like the BBC.
Mid-tier media properties employed a good number of skilled workers — writers, shooters, editors. It’s a small number of craftspeople who have been able to work exclusively on blockbusters. While niche content might be doing well as a market segment, it doesn’t require the same level of talent to produce. The writing need not be as crisp, the editing as tight, and the lighting can be close enough.
The demise of the media middle class may bring about the demise of the media professional middle class. That would be a shame. Middle class voices in mainstream media are good for civil discourse. Look at the type of discourse we get in niche cable programming.