Monday, January 31, 2011

In 2010, the Media Seems to Cover Just 2 Tech Companies. Will that continue in 2011?

We think the media will continue to focus on Apple, Google -- including Apple vs. Google -- as well as Microsoft as a distant third player, at least in terms of coverage.

There are, of course, thousands of tech companies in the U.S.

But given tech sections at daily newspapers generally focus on smartphones and, increasingly, tablets, and digital cameras, Apple and Google are the main stories for consumers.

When it's time to talk about laptops and printers, Dell and H-P get their share of articles.

That doesn't leave much room for the rest.

Check out "The Media’s Double Vision about the Digital Age" that provides more details, based on a Pew Excellence in Journalism study.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Trend We Missed

We try to get cover a lot of ground with our annual list of predictions. But an article from CES highlights one we overlooked: "Gadget Makers Follow Facebook's Lead: Compatibility of Cameras, Games, E-Books Grows Along With Social Network's Role in Consumers' Lives."

Having read it, I think that's an ongoing trend.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Where's the Beef" Taco Bell? Five tips on managing this crisis

Two decades after Wendy's commercials featured Clara Peller asking, "Where's the beef," we may have a sort of answer: Not at Taco Bell, according to a lawsuit filed this week. There are a lot of articles about the it, but you can check out an LA Times article, "Taco Bell buzz on the 'beef' class-action lawsuit."

Here are some points to consider for Taco Bell.
  1. Although its attorneys have clearly advised the company to limit its comments to a public statement, the company needs to go beyond that statement. Taco Bell may feel that by aggressively fighting the allegations through ads, public relations and social media, it risks raising awareness about those claims to people who might not have been aware in the first place. That's outdated thinking, circa 1997. You can no longer expect bad news to disappear in a news cycle -- you've got to expect that people on Facebook and Twitter will comment.
  2. The initial statement made some good points by saying that it buys "beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods" and that its starts "with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef." But Taco Bell should also consider ways it could provide content that will help fans support the company on Facebook and Twitter. The fact is Taco Bell's statement doesn't provide enough -- um -- meat, for Taco Bell fans. Or, the right meat.
  3. For example, audiences on Facebook and Twitter need different information. For example, on Taco Bell's Facebook page, 947 people indicated they liked the company's statement while 368 people posted comments about the allegations. While there were a lot of people whose comments indicated the allegations would not affect their loyalty, there were more comments than I expected for a fan page of people who were upset by the allegations. What's interesting is that a quick scan of the 374 comments, only three people said anything about USDA beef -- and only one of those was not negative ("You start with USDA beef... but what do you end with?" posted Nicholas Ensz.) And the only one to mention Tyson was a Tyson employee. Meanwhile, a quick scan of Twitter for Tyson and Taco Bell found that people did use that sentence from Taco Bell's statement. Unfortunately for Taco Bell and for Tyson, people added sarcastic comments, with a lot of LOLs. Searching for USDA and Taco Bell generated posts in which people claimed that "USDA says meat should consist of at least 40 percent meat." I'm not sure if that's true or not, but having started out in food PR, I know that the USDA definitions can be confusing for those outside the industry. For example, the USDA maintains different definitions for "American cheese" and "American cheese food." A quick scan of Twitter for Tyson and Taco Bell found that people did use that sentence from Taco Bell's statement. Unfortunately for Taco Bell and for Tyson, people added sarcastic comments, with a lot of LOLs. Searching for USDA and Taco Bell generated posts in which people claimed that "USDA says meat should consist of at least 40 percent meat." I'm not sure if that's true or not, but having started out in food PR, I know that the USDA definitions can be confusing for those outside the industry. For example, the USDA maintains different definitions for "American cheese" and "American cheese food."
  4. Seems that the allegations against Taco Bell are also raising issues for Tyson and USDA. So another recommendation would be for Taco Bell to be in close contact with Tyson and the USDA -- and that if it tries to defend itself in the future, it should point out that it purchases beef from providers other than Tyson.
  5. As a franchiser, Taco Bell needs to make sure it provides its franchisees with content they can use when asked by customers. The statement doesn't provide much about that, doesn't even make the point about its commitment to "conducting its business in an ethical, legal and socially responsible manner" or to providing quality food at a great price. There are a lot of Taco Bell accounts on Twitter, most of the ones set up by franchise groups do not seem to post on a regular basis. None of the ones I saw -- @TacoBellChicago, @TacoBellDetroit, @TacoBellTruck, @TacoBellWestMI, @TacoBellCanada, or @TacoBellCanada -- had posted anything since the lawsuit was filed. Corporate silence doesn't mean that people aren't talking about you.

What do you think? Are there other steps Taco Bell missed? How has Taco Bell responded well?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is the Future of News to be Found in Apps?

A lot of publishers are hoping that tablets, principally the iPad, will help save them by serving as a platform for getting users to pay for access to content.

But some news apps are doing an end run around publishers to make it easier for users to get the content they want. Some of them pick up and package newspapers' own RSS feeds.

Check out "Read All About It as News Apps Arrive," which describes a couple of news apps.

Also, check out "In the App Economy, Newspapers Are Apps" by Maya Baratz on HuffPost.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New York Times Finalizes Pay Wall

You can read about the Times' plan for the launch of its pay wall next month in the "Wall St. Journal, New York Times Readies Pay Wall: Paper Will Charge for Bundled Digital Service, Allow Some Free Access."

The Times plans are said to include:
  • A certain amount of free online access
  • An Internet-only package that may cost $10 per month.
  • A digital package, including iPad app access, for $20 per month.
  • Print and online access: bundled together for the same print subscription fee.
Key questions include:
  • How much access will non-subscribers get to Times coverage?
  • How much access will non-subscribers get to Times coverage -- via the Times' syndicated news service -- available on other sites that lack a pay wall yet?
  • How many non-subscribers will decide to pay for online access?
As they used to say on old radio programs, Stay tuned tomorrow...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Clarifying What We Mean That 2011 is the Year of App-based Subscriptions

We've gotten some interesting and positive responses to our predictions. One theme, however, is about whether app-based subscriptions will work because people are used to accessing news content without having to pay for it.

On that basis, a VC friend of ours specifically questioned whether we were right to call 2011 the year of the app-based magazine subscription.

So let me clarify.

When we say it will be the year of app-based magazine subscriptions, we mean that this year, publishers are going to need to figure out the mechanics of charging for app-based subscriptions. Regardless of whether or not they actually develop an app specifically for the iPad or a competing tablet platform, and whether or not they actually roll out a subscription fee for app-based access, what's clear is that 2011 will a make-or-break year in terms of how publishers and readers approach app-based access to magazines.

There's a cost involved in developing an app that provides a consistent look-and-feel that's similar to the print edition while providing additional value with content that takes advantage of the tablet's multimedia platform. But that all costs money, and somehow publishers have got to have this effort payoff.

That's the real challenge facing publishers as they roll-out and embrace tablet access. They've got to find a way to convince people to pay for app access. They're pretty much doomed if they don't.

As a journalism fan, I think I'm a bit more optimistic that users will be willing to pay for content customized for their tablets -- even as they're used to accessing free content off the web. The key will be how publishers package content on a tablet that's more impressive than what you can get online.

Meanwhile, although we listed a dozen story angles we think the business media will cover, we have missed two topics that unexpectedly are generating a lot of attention:
  1. The medical leave from Apple by Steve Jobs. Since that news hit after our predictions were posted, I think it's okay to let us off the hook on that one. We wish him well, and a quick recovery, but in the meantime, expect that to be a theme, and that reporters, analysts and bloggers alike will question the role of celebrity CEO, the nature of a senior management team, the role of the board, etc., in managing and running companies. Also expect that questions about disclosure and succession planning will be important topics.
  2. Tiger Mother. Amy Chua is a Yale law professor who wrote a book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,”which the New York Times described as "a memoir about strict Chinese parenting (that) reads as criticism of Western practices. Since a Wall St. Journal excerpt from her book was published Jan. 14 (after our list of trends was first posted on Jan. 10), it's been difficult to avoid the controversy about Tiger Mothers, which even reached People Magazine. I'm not sure of Tiger Mothers (a very different species from Mama Grizzlies) will be a hot topic once the initial furor has passed over the next few weeks. However, I do think the role of parents, particularly women, could continue to be a top topic for two reasons that are changing family dynamics: the lingering impact of the jobless recovery, in which women may be working while their husbands may still be unemployed; the new way of working, in which people don't have one full-time job but have a number of part-time jobs, which might make traditional family dinners a thing of the past as parents no longer work nine-to-five jobs.
Let us know if you have other comments to our predictions or to our clarification of our predictions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Boston Globe Validates Predictions about New Way to Work

Last year, in our Top Dozen Business & Technology Stories in 2010, we predicted that the media would cover "The freelancing of the US workforce -- or how we'll all be contractors or "perma-temps" in the future (especially given the jobless nature of the recovery)."

This year, we predicted continued interest in that story as it develops, calling it the new small business model fueled by contractors, not employees.

Today's Boston Globe reported on aspect of that: "When time is money: Flexible schedules are a boon for workers and a saving for firms."

The increasingly flexible workforce, made possible by technology like videoconferencing, is a main driver of the new small business model.

We see that trend as one that will be increasingly mainstream, where more people work when and where they want. Please note: we're not saying that's the rule for everyone, every job and every company. That said, we do think more people will have more flexibility in where and when they work.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New York Times Validates Our Prediction: The year of the app-based subscription

Last week, the Wall St. Journal validated our prediction: The year of the app-based subscription.

This week, the New York Times provides validation. Check out "For Magazines, a Bitter Pill in iPad," which describes the importance of shifting from a single-issue access to an annual subscription approach.

The Times even reiterates a key point we made: that the cost of single-issue access is often equal to or greater than the cost of a single issue of the paper edition, and that an annual app-based subscription on that basis can cost substantially more than an annual print subscription.

Our point with the prediction is that 2011 is the year that publishers will recognize the need to focus app-based subscriptions, find reasonable price points that work for them and subscribers and find a way to make it easy for subscribers to be notified and to want to reach each new issue.

The Times reports that the emergence of new tablets provides publishers will some leverage in negotiations with Apple, and we think that's true.

The article also says that right now, publishers have to develop apps across different platforms. That's true, too, but publishers must find a way to offer similar value at similar price points -- or risk disenfranchising subscribers using non-iPad tablets.

This raises a real issue for publishers and PR functions: how many tablet and smartphone formats do you need to support? At some point, in the next few years, the feature sets and format issues will become commodities, following the path blazed by TVs and PCs, where differences among them have been reduced to marketing decisions, like available colors. The reason: the balkinization of technology just doesn't work as a mass-market approach.

Clearly publishers and tablet manufacturers have to find a model that will be a win-win-win, making them happy and providing value to subscribers. This will require flexibility and experimentation -- something Apple and its App Store and iTunes model are not know for. Therefore, a key to success here will ride on the publisher's negotiations with competitors to Apple's App Store.

No matter how it turns out, look for continued interest and concerns from readers who want an easy way to access magazines via their new tablets in 2011.

Do you have a solution? Let me know.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Wall St. Journal Validates Our Prediction: The year of the app-based subscription

In our first set of predictions for 2011, issued on Jan. 10 and available here, we predicted that 2011 would be the year of app-based media subscriptions, noting that a critical factor would be the establishment of a common approach to subscriptions.

Currently, access to content via apps is often purchased on a single-issue basis. To succeed in terms of generating consistent revenue, we've said that publishers need to offer annual subscriptions and a consistent way to purchase them -- something that currently does not exist.

Today's Wall St. Journal points to a potential change. Check out: "Selling Magazine Subscriptions on the iPad." The platform, developed by Urban Airship, Inc., will sell app-based media subscriptions for Newsweek, the Atlantic and the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.

That's good news for publishers. Good news for people who want to access content on tablets. And that's good news for us, because that's a pretty quick validation of our one of our 12 predictions for 2011.

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, Part V

Here's Part V of our predictions, Top trends from 2010 that will continue in 2011.

  • Mobile access will become increasingly important in 2011, thanks to the popularity of tablets and the rollout of 4G wireless networks.

  • In-flight Internet access did become more widely available in 2010, and we expect it to grow more popular in 2011.

  • Online credibility will continue to be important.

  • Location-based services and behavioral targeting by advertisers.

  • Online privacy will continue to be important.

  • Three tech companies received the bulk of media attention in 2010, and they will continue to so in 2011. According to a study for the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, those companies were Apple (15.1 percent) and Google (11.4 percent), followed by Microsoft (3 percent). (Tech writer Farhad Manjoo wrote an article that discusses the reasons in an NPR interview, "Does Apple Get Too Much Media Love?") We think that Facebook will join AAPL, GOOG and MSFT in being the most written about tech companies.

  • Two main topics were the focus of much of the consumer tech coverage in 2010, and they will continue to do so in 2011, too. The two topics: smartphones and digital cameras (although fewer people feel the need to use the word "digital" to describe cameras anymore). Tablets will become a more important topic in 2011, as noted above.

  • Videoconferencing no longer resides just in executive conference rooms. You can now get videoconferencing a growing number of devices and a growing number of carriers thanks to 4G rollouts.

  • The continued growth of e-books and e-reader sales, following record e-reader sales and some e-books outselling their deadwood version. There are now best seller charts for e-books, for example. And after a record year in the sales of e-readers, expect another record year in e-book sales, leading to articles in 2011 that talk about the inevitability of the shift to e-books, especially after the expected launch of Google Editions, which is set to offer read-on-any device e-books. The one exception will be children's books, especially popup books (to be known as 3-D books).

  • The continued evolution of communications. People under age 28 don't use their smartphones to place or receive calls – instead, they use them to text, not email, their friends. People above the age of 28 prefer email. The telephone carriers love texting because they make significant margins from texts. Expect more coverage, and more people switching to texting.

Notice, too, what did not make this list:
  • MySpace: Obviously not 2010 technology, but clearly not one of Rupert Murdoch's successes. I saw an article in my town's local weekly paper that touched on MySpace by asking, "Does anyone remember its URL?" Ouch.
  • Chatroulette: Which blasted onto the scene in early 2010, quickly becoming the source of jokes for late night comedians, hadn't been in months until an article in the Times reminded everyone. The Times thinks that options you might call Son of Chatroulette -- connecting via text, connecting via video using Facebook IDs (to reduce the likelihood of bad behavior) will succeed where Chatroulette's naked men failed the effort. We're not so sure. We can't keep up with our friends and friends of friends even now, much less to make connections to new people the way these Sons of Chatroulette make possible.

Check out Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Let us know if you agree or disagree.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, The Top 12 Business & Technology Stories, Part IV

Here's Part IV of our predictions, The Top 12 Business & Technology Stories in 2011.

  1. The economy, including the deficit, unemployment, taxes, the incoming class of GOP legislators, regulations, and the "new normal."

  2. The battle for healthcare reform or the repeal of ObamaCare, depending on your political perspective.\

  3. The continuing battle among tech giants: Google vs. Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Cisco vs. EMC vs. HP vs. Oracle vs. SAP. Also expect reporting on the battle between the iPhone carriers: ATT vs. Verizon.

  4. Mergers & acquisitions will likely increase in 2011, and some coverage look at the implications and impact of those mergers. There were more than 2,700 acquisitions last year, and this year the tech giants listed immediately above still have lots of cash on hand to acquire companies that will help converge service offerings.

  5. Are we ready for 3-D TVs. (Last year the coverage was all about the invasion of 3-D TVs. This year, the backlash to a trend that failed to live up to its hype.) We do expect a lot more attention devoted to interactive TV-like devices, including Internet-ready TV sets in the living room that are also tied to smartphones and tablets.

  6. The state of the media, especially print media, online-only business models and online subscriptions. The media – traditional and online can't help but cover itself.

  7. The status of Facebook, its policy towards privacy, and the demise of MySpace. (Last year, it was Twitter's business model – which has yet to be fully answered.)

  8. The status of OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

  9. The advertising recovery.

  10. Local search, personalization and the growth of Groupon and similar businesses.

  11. Net neutrality, web traffic speeds.

  12. The new small business model. It used to be that small businesses were the real job engine in the U.S. economy. That's no longer the case as technology allows for contractors and virtual teams to launch new companies and products. Where you once needed dozens of employees to launch a new software product, these days you need a few employees and an outsourced team in another country.

This is not to exclude the other topics we've included in our 2011 predictions, available here: Part I, Part II and Part III.

Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for additional predictions. Next up: Top Continuing Trends.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, Part III

Here's Part III of our predictions. Here are links to Part I and Part II.

  • Traditional media will move to stable, if fragile, footing as the economy recovers – but they can't relax. The worst may be behind them, based on the reduced number of traditional newspapers and magazines that have either shut down or shifted to an online-only business model in 2010 as compared to the prior two years. But the old ways of doing business won't survive the "new normal" because even with a recovery, media properties will never again see revenue at the 2007 pre-recession levels -- unless they innovate and find more ways to generate revenue aside from traditional ad sales.

    That means finding a way to charge for online content on the revenue side. That also means fewer staff and resources, perpetual deadlines and multichannel content.

  • Live integrated real-time interactive multimedia events – we used to call those events "TV shows" – will become more common in 2011.

    Producers will seek to combine active social media with passive viewing on one screen. You won't be limited to just voting for a contestant on a reality show, you can also comment on everything about the show. Hate Ryan Seacrest? Now you can let everyone know. The difference is that in 2010, you had to comment on Twitter or Facebook. In 2011, you'll be able to comment next to the action, and be able to interact with others on one screen as opposed to watching your TV and typing away on your computer. (Bravo has already embraced this approach, according to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, "For Bravo, One Screen Isn't Enough.")

  • Hybrid will be the overused word of the year, followed by mashup and "curation."

    The word "hybrid" is no longer relegated to plants or, more recently, cars. The continued popularity in the business world for cloud-based computing and virtualization -- and yes, we know: they're not the same thing – will also drive businesses to want to maintain some control of their data and processes onsite, in their own servers, leading to a hybrid approach, for example.

    Mashups used to describe the combination of two songs (on "Glee") or two musical styles, but can be used to describe anything that combines elements of two different things.

    As used in 2011, curation does not have anything to do with healing. Sometimes known as "digital curation," the term generally refers to the concept of a website that offers information selected and maintained by an actual human (who might be known as a curator if this were a museum), not by an algorithm. In newspaper circles, this person used to be called "editor."

Let us know if you agree or disagree. And check back tomorrow for additional predictions. Next up: Tomorrow, Top 12 business and technology stories for 2011.