Tag: television

Will E Corp Become the KLondike-5 of Corporate Branding?

Paterno-ECorp

Near the beginning Barry Levinson’s film Paterno, which debuted on HBO this past Saturday, is a scene in which reporters from Harrisburg Pennsylvania’s Patriot-News huddle around a computer monitor to read the criminal charges filed against retired football coach Jerry Sandusky. As the camera shows the team glued to the screen, the back of the computer display shows the logo of E Corp, the fictional mega-conglomerate in USA Network’s Mr. Robot. Wait… what?

In a wider shot, it’s clear the monitors are from Dell Computer, whose rotated E in the company’s logo bears a casual resemblance to the E Corp logo, but the visual identities of the two are distinct. The logo in the close-up is E Corp.

It’s not clear why the original logo was swapped out for that of E Corp. Perhaps it was a clearance issue. Or, more likely, the production team felt that a shot that features the logo so prominently would look like a product placement or would otherwise detract from the drama of the moment. So some clever person — perhaps a Mr. Robot fan — must have dropped in the E Corp logo (likely in post production).

Calling KLondike-5

This approach might come in handy for other productions. Just as movie phone numbers are typically from the non-existent KL5 (555) exchange, there are instances in which substituting a fictional logo for an actual one solves problems of clearances or audience focus. E Corp could become the KLondike-5 of corporate branding in movies and television, the Alan Smithee of corporate identity.

Is Elliot Alderson the New Tommy Westphall?

Were E Corp to appear more broadly across movie and TV properties it would, no doubt, give rise to marvelous fan theories about how it all ties together within the universe of Mr. Robot.

It may be time to update the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis to realize that most of what we see on television is, in fact, all in the mind of Mr. Robot’s Elliot Alderson.


The image from Paterno is from a copyrighted film, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the film’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

Thanks to Brian Jason Ford for suggesting the Tommy Westphall reference.

Maybe More Really is More in TV Advertising

And now, a whole lot of words from our sponsorIn “The Hulu Effect at Fox TV? Less is More in TV Advertising” last December, I observed that Fox television appeared to be following the lead of online video services like Hulu in running fewer ads per show. By having shorter commercial breaks — and communicating at the outset that the program would, for example, “return in 60 seconds” — the network hoped viewers would sit through the ads rather than changing channels, zapping past the commercials, or just walking away.

Comcast, which along with Time Warner plans to go online with some of its cable programming, apparently has a different view. According to the Wall Street Journal, Comcast plans to include the same complement of ads online as when the programs are originally broadcast.

Andy Heller, vice chairman of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting, is quoted as saying, “We spend billions of dollars buying and making these programs. And if we give this stuff to consumers for free with limited ads, it’ll go away.”

Television programs on Hulu, the free alternative to these cable-subscription services, typically contain less advertising than when they are shown on broadcast television. According to Jean-Paul Colaco, senior vice president of advertising at Hulu, the company has no immediate plans to change this scheme. The Journal states that “Mr. Colaco says Hulu’s focus is on increasing the effectiveness of ads and the amount of revenue they produce, rather than increasing their number.”

The issue, then, is one of quality versus quantity. If online commercials prove to be more effective than their broadcast counterparts, networks can run fewer ads per program. In theory this should be the case. Online ads can be targeted more narrowly and measured more accurately. And, of course, they can’t be skipped over as can the ads in recorded TV programs. Because of this, as the Journal piece points out, web ads typically command higher advertising rates per view.

The networks and cable companies are reluctant to leave money on the table, however. They are concerned, in the now famous words of NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker, about “trading analog dollars for digital pennies.”

While individual ad spots may command a higher CPM (cost per thousand views), the overall revenue-generating power of online content remains to be demonstrated. Until online programming can prove its ability to generate revenue on a par with conventional distribution methods, expect the traditional media to be reluctant to change the rules of the game as they move their content online.

Old Habits Die Hard: What Matters in Media Metrics

dollhouse-twitter-w240.jpgIn between the flurry of stories about Fox Broadcasting declining to air the mysterious 13th episode of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” and concerns that the series may be summarily canceled, an interesting tidbit appeared on Twitter from the Whedon camp.

Despite rumors that Fox has already decided to cancel “Dollhouse,” published reports have claimed that the network doesn’t plan to make a final decision on the program’s future until their “up-front” week in late May. The notion that the series’ fate is still undecided was reinforced by a tweet yesterday from @drhorrible (Whedon and company) which stated, in part, “If more people watch Dollhouse LIVE, the higher our chances for a 2nd season”

Beyond the thread of hope it gives to fans of the series, this message implies that the fate of “Dollhouse” is largely in the hands of those who watch the Fox network broadcast of the show. People viewing the same content on their digital video recorders (DVRs) or at Hulu.com a day later are apparently less important to the powers at Fox who control the network’s programming.

DVR viewing is admittedly problematic since most viewers skip over the advertisements which are intended to fund the “free” content. But Hulu should be a marketer’s dream, since viewers are unable bypass the advertisements (and, because of their brevity, there is little incentive to walk away and do something else until the spots are over). In addition, user tracking data for sites like Hulu (as well as some DVRs like the TiVo) is much more accurate and more detailed than that of broadcast television.

Furthermore, although the details are a bit murky, there is evidence that Hulu’s ad rates are as good as or better than those of broadcast television. In March, 2008 Hulu CEO Jason Kilar claimed that Hulu’s ad rate was better than that of primetime network programming. In June, 2008, a Silicon Alley Insider article also stated that Hulu’s ad rates are “higher than network TV.” The latter, however, cited a range of $25 to $30 CPM (per thousand views) for ads on Hulu, which is in the same neighborhood as the average  30-second primetime TV spot according to the Television Bureau of Advertising, an industry trade association.

Whether or not “Dollhouse” (or any other network show) survives to run another season, it’s unfortunate that the program’s fate may rest on the actions of one segment of its viewing audience. To the extent this is true, it’s another example of how industry practice lags behind the current state of media evolution.

Technological Disjunction

tvsnow.gifWith the President and the Congress tussling over the date of the transition of broadcast television from analog to digital, this may be an opportune time to reflect on the magnitude of this event.

With an estimated 6.5 million homes currently unable to receive a digital TV signal, the stakes are high. The American people will tolerate a great deal, but heaven help the politician who takes away their television.

This event — whenever it eventually happens — will be unprecedented in the history of mass media. Never before has a major broadcast infrastructure been shut down.

There have been media formats — such as Edison wax cylinders, RCA SelectaVision video discs, Laservision laser discs, and Betamax video cassettes — that have fallen by the wayside. And three years ago, on January 27, 2006, Western Union exited the telegram business. But no major consumer broadcast service has pulled the plug on its audience like the switch digital television will do. From the dawn of electronic media in the 19th century throughout its expansion in the 20th, new features have been added in an evolutionary manner compatible with what went before.

I own a candlestick telephone from circa 1915. It doesn’t have a dial — the phone is from the era in which you lifted the earpiece and toggled the hook several times to get the attention of your local operator who would then place your call. But with an RJ11 jack spliced on the end of the cord, you can plug it into the wall and it still works with today’s telephone infrastructure. When alerted by the sound of another phone in the house with a ringer — the candlestick phone as none — you can pick up the earpiece of 1915 phone and talk to anyone in the world. With practice, you can even use it to dial by rapidly toggling the earpiece hook, which is the equivalent of pulse dialing on a rotary phone.

Similarly, radios that originally received Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast and President Roosevelt’s fireside chats can still capture AM radio stations playing the latest Britney Spears pop tune.

A television manufactured in the U.S. shortly after World War II would still work today — at least up until the digital TV switch occurs. It would, of course, only display a black-and-white image of programs on channels 2 through 13. But, even today, that’s enough to watch everything from the “NBC Nightly News” to “Lost” throughout most of the U.S.

Since the 1940s, American broadcast television has introduced color, stereo
sound, secondary audio programming, and closed captioning without impairing the existing functions. Think about that for a moment. Changes as radical as the transition from black-and-white to color were added to television’s broadcast signal without disrupting the previous service.

We are now on the precipice of eliminating television signals from the traditional broadcast frequencies. The electromagnetic spectrum they occupy is too valuable to leave to analog NTSC TV signals. You’ll be able to tell your grandchildren you were there the day that millions of television sets went dead, displaying nothing but random snow.

The Hulu Effect at Fox TV? Less is More in TV Advertising

fringe-return-mod-w520.jpgThe current (December 8 – 14) issue of TV Guide reports that the Fox television network is experimenting with a new advertising model — running fewer ads per show. That’s right, less advertising. The network is running only about 5 minutes of advertising — roughly half the normal amount — on shows like Fringe and Joss Whedon’s forthcoming Dollhouse.

By having ad breaks of only 60 or 90 seconds, Fox hopes viewers will sit through the ads rather than switching channels or leaving the room (or, if previously recorded, zapping past them). Key to this strategy is letting viewers know the duration of each ad break by saying, for example, “Fringe will return in 90 seconds.”

This approach echoes that of online media sites like Hulu which, from the outset, have included limited commercial interruptions embedded in its movies and television programs. When watching Hulu, a joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp’s Fox, the viewer is not only informed of the length of the ad spot, but sees a countdown showing how much time remains until the feature resumes.

hulu-ad-break-w520.jpgOf course, Hulu’s sparse advertising may have been born of necessity more than strategy. As a Wired blog post observed a few months ago, Hulu’s content appears to have expanded faster than its advertising base, leaving many programs with public service announcements or “house ads” for the networks that provide the programming.

And yet, Hulu appears to be doing well overall. One recent report suggests that Hulu may be on track to catch up with Google’s YouTube in ad revenue by next year.

TV Guide reports that Fox also believes its television experiment is working, stating that advertisers like the exclusivity of the less crowded environment, and the network is able to charge a premium of 35 to 40 percent over its regular ad rate because of the prominence of the limited ads.

Rather than just slowly sapping viewers away from television, web sites like Hulu may be discovering new ways to attract and retain viewers that the television networks can emulate to their benefit as well.