prof. e.

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Archive for the ‘tv’ Category

Survivors and Victims of Reality TV’s Deception

Posted by prof e on April 15, 2017

Reality TV is constantly inventing new ways to shock its viewers. This past week on Survivor it was the outing of transgender contestant Zach Smith by gay competitor Jeff Varner. In a side story (in real life), Varner was subsequently fired from his job as a real estate agent by a boss who was quoted as saying that Varner is “in the middle of a news story that we don’t want anything to do with.”

The uproar on social media was immediate and unforgiving. Some of the harshest criticism was for Varner and his use of the word “deception” to describe Smith’s secret. Others were harshly critical of CBS for deciding to include the scene after months of deliberation.

But it turns out that CBS and Smith worked closely to prepare for the episode’s airing this past week.

According to the New York Times,

From the moment the episode was filmed nearly 10 months ago, the “Survivor” producers had been consulting with Mr. Smith about how best to handle airing the incident, which included a strategic media rollout and working with Glaad, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group, before the episode’s broadcast.

Jeff Probst, the show’s host and executive producer called it “one of the most raw and painful studies of human behavior that has ever happened on ‘Survivor.’ ”

But I’m left with a question that goes to the heart of reality TV as a programming genre. For the Survivor-type shows where contestants compete for a grand prize, deception, betrayal, and backstabbing are not only allowed, they are encouraged. Deception is how you play the game on reality TV…and, unfortunately, increasingly so in the world of politics and international relations. But I digress.

One viewer took to Twitter refusing to accept Varner’s apology saying, “Apologies only have meaning when they are expressing sincere regret for a mistake. What Varner did was no mistake. He intentionally humiliated Zeke and tried to justify it.” Exactly! That is how you play the game on Survivor. The drama created by conflict is why most people watch, and have been watching Survivor for more than 13 years. The business model for Survivor and CBS is based on people doing outrageous things in front of cameras and microphones. CBS will cash that check over and over again…or at least as long as the audience shows up asking for more.

But we’re still left with the question; why did this tactic by Varner elicit such a strong response from viewers? Just like the collective judgement directed at United Airlines, the moral outrage targeting Varner and CBS is indicative of society’s desire for justice. We know when something is over the line. But whose line is it, and where should it be drawn?

Some of the ugliest disagreements (on social media and elsewhere) are between people who want to draw the line in a different place than where others think it should be drawn.


Posted in ethics, media industry, social media, tv | Leave a Comment »

Supersize That!

Posted by prof e on February 5, 2017

wingsSuper Bowl LI is this afternoon and the hype is living up to expectations. I read earlier today that “experts” are predicting that Americans will eat 1.3 BILLION chicken wings today. (In case you were wondering, “1.3 billion chicken wings is enough for every man, woman and child in the United States to have four wings each”). It just so happens that the “experts” quoted are the National Chicken Council. Here’s their press release…the one that generated the news stories. As you can probably tell, this is all about promoting chicken wings. It’s not news, it’s advertising. And journalists and news outlets that carry the story are part of the problem facing real journalism.

And speaking of journalists, there will be approximately 5,000 of them covering the big game. Is that really necessary? I know what you’re thinking…I’m just jealous and wish my organization (fat chance) had sent me to Houston to report on the game and the many associated parties.

Of course I’ll be watching the advertisements. Every year there are a few good ads…ones that might even be worth the $$$ that keeps increasing every year. This year a 30-second spot will set the advertiser back a cool $5.5 million. Over the past half-century, total ad spending in the big game is approaching $5 billion. And while I don’t have hard data to support my claim, I think it’s fair to say that not all of those dollars were well spent. But there have been some great ads that have been worth every penny. Coke “Mean Joe Green”, Apple “1984” and Budweiser “Frogs” come to mind. (See them here.)

Okay, enough ranting. But before I close, I thought I’d revisit that whole chicken wing thing. PETA has, characteristically, found a way to make you feel guilty for indulging. Don’t click this link if you plan to enjoy some hot wings at your party…I warned you!


Posted in advertising, journalism, sports, tv | 10 Comments »

Supersized Audience for Presidential Debate

Posted by prof e on September 26, 2016

trumphillaryThe first of three presidential debates between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was expected to set a new record for audience size as the two “least popular” candidates in decades took the stage tonight. The previous record goes back to 1980 and the Reagan/Carter debate.

With this large of an audience, brands see this as an advertising opportunity. While the debate itself is aired without advertising, some of the ad spending will go to social media where hashtags are used to connect with customers. According to,

Tecate and agency Saatchi New York are airing a Trump-mocking ad called #TecateBeerWall. Unlike the barrier proposed by the Republican nominee, Tecate’s wall will be 3 feet tall and used as a meeting point for people from both sides of the border to have a drink on. It will air Monday night on Fox, Univision and Telemundo.

The guidelines for the debate are set by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that sets the rules and chooses the moderators. One decision that has drawn some attention is that the moderators this year will not serve as on-the-fly fact-checkers. So if/when either candidate says something that is dubious, it will be up to the other candidate, journalists, and later, the TV commentators, to try to set the record straight. Of course you can always turn to Twitter where the American audience will be fact-checking every statement in real-time.

And speaking of social media, you don’t even need a TV to watch the debates. Plenty of websites, including Facebook, are live streaming the events.

Posted in politics, tv | 9 Comments »

I’d Like to Thank the Academy…

Posted by prof e on February 26, 2016

chris-rock-oscar-countdownThe first Oscars ceremony in 1929 was all of 15 minutes long. Last year, it was nearly 4 hours. Part of the reason for the length is the fact that nearly everyone honored with an award gets to make a speech, and in that speech they try to remember and thank the many “little people” who contributed to their success. It’s nice to be generous and to recognize the folks who helped you reach the top…but come on, some of these speeches go on far too long.

Producers and directors try to keep the show moving by cueing the live orchestra to “play them off” the stage after 45 seconds passed, but some don’t take the hint. This year, things will be a bit different. Instead of giving verbal thanks, nominees have been asked to list the names of those they’d like to thank should they receive the opportunity. And then, when their time comes, the names will scroll across the bottom of the screen, ticker-tape fashion, while the awardee focuses on delivering a short and pithy acceptance speech. It will be interesting to see if this works. By the way, can you guess which actor/actress has been thanked the most by his/her peers? Check it out here!

On a side note, the “swag bag” this year will be worth upwards of $220,000. Among other things it will include a vaporizer, a breast lift, and a sex toy. GQ categorizes each item ranging from basic to “trashy” to respectable. According to an article in The Atlantic, not everyone was happy with the assortment of gifts and the Academy has sued the marketing firm that put the package together. Sigh…it’s getting harder and harder for the 1% to enjoy their conspicuous consumption.

Posted in film, tv | 4 Comments »

Roll Out the Red Carpet: It’s Time for the Media Awards Shows

Posted by prof e on February 14, 2016

AwardsThe 58th Grammy Awards show tomorrow night, Feb 15th, continues the awards show season that started with the Golden Globe Awards show broadcast on January 10th. Next up will be the movie industry’s gala, the 88th Academy Awards show, (aka, the Oscars), scheduled for February 28th. Two smaller awards programs, the iHeartRadio Music Awards show and the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards, will air in April. TV’s big night, the Emmy Awards, will air sometime in the fall season.

These awards shows are an opportunity for media executives and celebrities to take a stroll on the red carpet while they pat each other on the back. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the hoopla is mostly an insider’s party that the public is allows to watch from the sidelines. (Of, if you’re really lucky, up close as a seat filler.)

If you like music, movies, and TV there will likely be something for you to enjoy. But there will also be performances and awards that will just as likely make you wonder what else is on. These awards shows are all about pop media content, but the range is pretty broad and not to everyone’s taste.

However, if you need a reason to tune in here are a few.

Grammys: 1) Taylor v Kendrick, 2) you’ll get to see a number from the Broadway show Hamilton, and 3) Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie.

The Academy Awards: 1) will be hosted this year by Chris Rock, which is particularly newsworthy because of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the calls to boycott by leading black actors, and 2) Leonardo DiCaprio is up for an Oscar for The Revenant, and 3) the outfits.

Posted in film, media industry, music, tv | 3 Comments »

$167,000 per second

Posted by prof e on February 2, 2016

No, that’s not the growth rate of the national debt. It is the price for a TV spot. A 30-second ad will cost advertisers $5 million this coming Sunday. Super Bowl 50 (let’s just forget about that “L” thing for a moment) will likely have an audience of 115-120 million viewers, and this is a chance to pitch all 120 million of them with your brand or product. It is the only remaining mass media event that can pull a live audience of this size…and because of that it can command outrageous sums of money from brands that want/need that kind of exposure.

Here’s a video from last year that helps to explain…

When you’re spending this kind of money you want to maximize the effect and, if possible, increase exposure. One way is to release your ad on YouTube prior to the big day, and hope that you can build buzz online with social media. One Super Bowl ad that was very effective with this approach was VW’s The Force spot. This year Budweiser is trying it with a don’t-drink-and-drive spot featuring Helen Mirren. You can see it here…

Posted in advertising, media industry, tv | 2 Comments »

Ad of the Day, featuring MCCNM alum Megan Matousek

Posted by prof e on November 3, 2015

Every so often one of our amazing MCCNM alums does something really fantastic…and this time it is Megan Matousek, class of 2005. Megan works for Industrial Light & Magic, and most recently had a hand in the making of this commercial spot for Duracell.

You can read more about the spot here, at the Ad Week website. Scroll to the bottom for Megan’s credit.


Posted in advertising, film, tv | Leave a Comment »

Prognostications about Political Programming

Posted by prof e on November 2, 2015

The first Tuesday in November is typically election day…the day that ordinary citizens voice their preferences for candidates and ballot issues. This year is an off-year election, meaning that candidates on the ballot will be those running for school board, city council, mayor, etc.–not governor of the state or president of the United States. The national election for the office of president will come next year.

But 2016 will be here before you know it, and the major political parties are well under way with their process of determining who will be their candidate for the general election. While the Democratic party appears to have settled on Hillary Clinton as their candidate, the Republican party is still struggling to find the best candidate to go toe-to-toe with Hillary.

The surprising strength of billionaire Donald Trump’s candidacy is having an equally surprising effect on TV ratings. The three Republican debates thus far have generated much higher ratings that similar events in the past. Trump, the media celebrity, has leveraged his “star”-power and bombastic personality to attract viewers to TV programming that might otherwise be about as exciting as watching C-SPAN.

Which brings us to a very strange phenomenon. The appeal of huge ratings has the TV networks fighting over these political debates as if they were NFL games. Winning the contract to televise a presidential candidate forum has become a permit to print money…and the candidates know it. That is why representatives from each of the major candidate’s campaigns recently met to agree to new rules that will allow them to dictate to the networks how to structure future debates. The candidates are in the driver’s seat and they are going to decide where they want to go.

And one place they want to go, collectively, is away from networks and moderators who are less than friendly. The most recent Republican candidate debate, hosted by CNBC, a subsidiary of NBC, was widely criticized by political observers, and the candidates themselves. According to RNC chairman Reince Priebus,

While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.

CNBC’s approach will work if the candidates are at the mercy of the TV networks to get their message out. But in this day and age with social media and websites and competing news outlets, the control is slipping away from TV networks. If they want to keep the debates, and the associated advertising dollars, they will have to make concessions to the news-makers.

In all of this journalists and TV news networks need to remember that credibility is their primary product. If and when they lose credibility they will have little to offer. And according to a recent Gallup poll journalists’ credibility is below business executives, on par with lawyers, and just a few notches above advertisers, politicians, and lobbyists.

Posted in advertising, journalism, politics, tv | Leave a Comment »

This Ain’t Your Father’s Television

Posted by prof e on September 26, 2015

rabbitearsIt used to be easy to explain what television was. The TV was the thing that sat in your living room, den or family room. It was standard definition, 4:3 aspect ratio, and had a 27-inch (or so) diagonal screen. When you turned it on and tuned in a channel, (you could choose from ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and maybe an independent station or two), you could watch a TV program that was either a game show, sitcom, drama, news or variety show.

That was then. Modern TV has morphed into something that defies easy description. TV “programs” can be watched on any one of many devices with screens from a few inches wide to, well…humongous. You can access TV programming using an antenna (surprised?, you’re not alone), cable or satellite subscription service, internet streaming from various service providers such as Netflix and Hulu, or for free on various internet websites.

TV programming used to always be 30 or 60 minutes in length. Of that, about 22 minutes or 46 minutes was actual program…the rest was commercial spots for products and services and promos for other TV shows.

The technology involved in getting a standard definition television signal to your home used to rely on a TV station transmitting a signal from an antenna to your receiving antenna, which was mounted either on your roof or on top of the TV set (aka, rabbit ears). That is actually still an option and more and more TV viewers are rediscovering free, Over-The-Air (OTA) TV and the benefits of an HD signal without a monthly bill. Switch from a pay service such as cable or satellite TV to free OTA is often referred to as cutting the cord. I’ve already posted to this blog about “cord cutters” (here and here) so I won’t revisit that in this post.

Instead, I want to discuss streaming video, and more precisely, the sharing of subscription passwords. If you watched the Emmy awards last week you may have heard the host, Andy Samberg of SNL fame, give out his HBO username and password to a viewing audience of just under 12 million people. What was intended as a joke by Samberg is actually a real problem for the streaming TV business. According to a recently published report, streaming media sites like Netflix and Hulu stand to lose $500 million this year because of unauthorized sharing. A survey of 1,000 US adults conducted in early September of this year found that 36% say that they share premium TV app credentials with others. An HBO Now account ($14.99 per month) permits three simultaneous users, and additional attempts to connect will result in an error message….something that lots of Emmy viewers experienced when they tried to login with Samberg’s account info.


Posted in tv, video | 1 Comment »

Rewiring my brain…this could take awhile

Posted by prof e on June 15, 2015

I’m approaching the mid-point of my year-long experiment. For 2015 I’m avoiding (as much as is professionally possible) all forms of electronic mass media. No TV news, no NPR or music on the radio, no podcasts, no Facebook or Twitter (except for an occasional post to the MCCNM department’s pages). Essentially I’m allowing myself print media. I resubscribed to the Pueblo Chieftain (newsprint edition) and have been reading a lot of books. (So far over 30, about 10,000 pages!) I continue to use email, course management software for classes, and I post content to various websites (this blog, YouTube, etc). I cannot turn off the switch entirely without taking a sabbatical from work.

I’m sure some of you may be wondering whether this constitutes professional malpractice for someone who is a professor in a Mass Communication department. Unplugging, while demanding that my students pay close attention to the media event or scandal du jour, may seem unfair or irresponsible. Perhaps you think that I’m just a curmudgeonly old fool, a closet Luddite, a technophobe, and a recluse. I can assure you that most (not all) of those assumptions are unfounded.

This has been, and continues to be, an experiment. It is not unique…many others have run this experiment before, and for many different reasons. And with such a small sample (n=1) you know that this qualitative experiment will have very little generalizability in the end. But it will matter to me. One way or the other I expect to learn a lot about myself, my media habits, my thinking process (with and without the constant barrage of media shrapnel), and my relationships.

Our discipline has a long history of media deprivation studies. Usually a researcher looks for a naturally occurring interruption in media services and uses the occasion to collect data on how people respond and react to the loss of service. Strikes by journalists or union workers who drive the delivery trucks, extended power outages, and natural disasters are all sources of media outages. Self-inflicted media blackouts are another matter altogether.

The reason for this experiment is to see if there has been a slow and steady decline in my thinking and my thought process as a result of my media consumption behavior over time. Reading Nicolas Carr’s prescient essay, Is Google Making Us Stupid, when it was published in 2008 initiated my concern. In the essay Carr bemoans his own ability to read deeply…and to think deeply about what he has read. For an academic, this is NOT good news. When I assigned Carr’s essay to students in my Media & Society class, they complained that it was too long…thus supporting Carr’s thesis. Can’t I have my internet, my social media, my podcasts, my news sound bites AND an intellectual capacity to contemplate the big issues? Not according to Carr.

A friend of mine who works with people with addictions tells me that it takes three years to change the mental processes that frequently drive compulsive behavior.  The big question that remains for me is whether this one year of partial withdraw will be sufficient to see a significant effect. I’ll keep you posted…just not on Twitter or Facebook!

Posted in media effects, media industry, research, social media, tv | Leave a Comment »