The Real Problem with Facebook Live

This morning’s Wall Street Journal has a smart look back at Facebook Live after about a year of the service being available, although it misses the real Achilles heel of the service.

Here is a relevant snippet from WSJ:

Nearly a year later, many publishers say Facebook Live viewership is lackluster. Facebook is still tinkering with ways for them to earn money from their broadcasts. Facebook doesn’t disclose viewer data or financial results for Facebook Live.

The article also goes into detail about Facebook’s ethical challenges about how to deal with live-streamed acts of violence, perhaps most prominently the Minnesota death of Philando Castile after a police officer shot him and Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, put the chilling incident onto Facebook Live as it happened.

And the article talks glowingly of the now-famous Chewbacca Mom video that turned Candace Payne into a short-term celebrity after the video was viewed 166 Million times and after Kohl’s brilliantly jumped on the opportunity to turn her video into a sort of found poetry form of content marketing.

Here’s another important snippet:

“There is an insatiable appetite for things happening live,“ said Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Facebook, by combining the process of normalizing this technology and its scale, inherits the upside of making this a mainstream platform, as well as the downside.”

Zuckerman is right about the appetite for things happening live, but this also shows the problem with Facebook Live: most of the time for most people the video isn’t live at all… it was merely recorded live and viewers have the option of playing it back later.

In other words, there is no urgency to Facebook Live.  It will be there whenever you want it, and it’s unlikely that you will want it anyway because what you’re really getting is somebody’s amateurish home movies at scale.

Unlike Snapchat, which has a “now or never” quality because things vanish, Facebook Live video’s are indelible.

Candace Payne’s delightful video racked up 166 million views because it was indelible, and because it was delightful it spread like wildfire, but that’s not a recipe that anybody can repeat reliably.

The beauty of live experience — in life, the theater, concerts, politics — is that at any moment things might go horribly wrong, and so when the don’t go badly it’s a relief and a celebration.

When things are already finished, recorded or — in the words of Mikhail Bakhtin — “finalized” they are less urgent than something happening right now.

Watching Facebook Live videos after the fact is like the ironic experience of growing up on the West Coast and watching “Saturday Night Live” when it was recorded live three hours previously but isn’t anymore: it’s Saturday Night Dead… an irony made all the more palpable in 2017 by East Coasters tweet-spoiling all the good bits before folks in the west have a chance to see them.

Unlike SNL, which is 90 minutes long, most Facebook Live posts are short, and there’s no infrastructure beyond a poster’s social graph to promote that an exciting video is happening right now… if the video even is exciting.  (I just found a webcam of a Giraffe happily munching straw.  Yawn.)

With the exception of breaking news (with the aforementioned ethical challenges), by the time you hear about something happening on Facebook Live it’s already pretty much over.

For a live experience to be satisfying, you have to be there or be watching as it happens, know what you’re looking at, and pay attention.

Those things are unlikely to happen with Facebook Live.

P.S. I’ve been talking about “eventness” for years, including here.

[Cross-posted on Medium.]

On Meditation: a tweet drizzle in 11 brief parts

On meditation: a tweet drizzle (1) #mindful

OK, I get it. Morning mediation is important. It creates a shock absorber in my head for the day to come, gives me resources. (2) #mindful

The chattering monkeys and skittering spiders of my thoughts need taming, stilling, calming, tranquilizing (3) #mindful

Inner peace is probably beyond me, but a mind less like a New Delhi street with cars zipping any which way would be nice. (4) #mindful

But why does meditation have to be so damned BORING? My breathing just isn’t that interesting, nor are my aches and pains. (5) #mindful

Listening to music while meditating — even Gyoto Tantric chanting — seems like cheating somehow. (6) #mindful

I listen to the fridge whispering in the kitchen, the sound of my clothes rustling, house settling, birds outside waking. (7) #mindful

And then my mind skulks away from meditation into myriad chores, emails to write, what to make the kids for breakfast. (8) #mindful

Is this the project? A fight to dwell in a brief present amid a siege of thoughts? Does it get easier, effortless, soothing… (9) #mindful

Or is meditation always a struggle on the ground of the present moment between past reflection and future anticipation? (10) #mindful

End of tweet drizzle (so called because by definition something on meditation can hardly amount to a storm). (11) #mindful

From the Archive: Why does “on demand” feel so… demanding?

A kind tweet today from my friend David Daniel reminded me of this post, first published October 1, 2006. A look through my site found it a casualty of a domain transfer, but the always-useful Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive brought it back from the dead. Original version (with original comments) can be found here, and a subsequent story by CNN can be found here.  I don’t remember where I coined the term “TiVo Guilt,” but this at least is where the thinking comes from…

Having the best of the media world at my fingertips via cable VOD, TiVo, DVD, the internet and the metric ton of videotapes still lying around my garage can be a drag.

A couple nights back I cleared out the episodes of “House” piling up in my TiVo because they had ceased to be a special treat that I was saving for myself and started to feel like a homework assignment I’d forgotten to turn in. Similarly, my wife and I have had the many-many-Emmy-winning “Elizabeth I” in TiVo since April– April! We’ll never watch it, but we can’t bear to raise the white flag.

TiVo works best for short delays… watching something 15 minutes after it starts so I can blaze through without commercials,* or later that night, or the next night, but not much after that. I saw the second episode of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” on Tuesday night and loved it… almost as much as if I’d seen it on Monday night when it aired.

A short delay preserves that sense of sobytiinost — the “eventness” or connectedness with other people that I’ve talked about before — but eventness doesn’t last long. Like a delicate radioactive isotope, it has a half-life measured in mere hours.

The longer a piece of media lies around unseen, the more my satisfaction index declines. To be more precise, as a piece of media lies around, I find the prospect of watching it less satisfying. If I actually hurdle the barrier of my lack of desire to watch something once it’s no longer new, then I’ll probably enjoy it, although not, I suspect, as much as if I’d watched it when it was newer or live.

This is not just true of media that I can get in my home. With big, tentpole movies that have had expensive marketing campaigns and been drilled into my consciousness, I’d better see them close to the opening weekend or I’m going to wait for it to surface on HBO. If I’m only dimly aware of a movie — or if I’m seeing just about anything with my daughter who brings to the theater her own eventness — then this dynamic doesn’t happen. And as a corollary, with a sleeper like “Keeping Up with the Steins” the expectation — the sense of being about to be in on something that the unwashed multitude hasn’t heard about — brings its own anticipation.

Late at night, beached on the couch with the dog at my feet while the rest of the family sleeps, the last thing I want to do is make a well-informed, thoughtful, right-thinking decision about how I’m going to spend the next hour. That all sounds like such a commitment: I just want to relax. Dredging something from TiVo’s bowels means that I’ll have to make judgments and decisions: Should I have recorded this? Should I cancel the season pass? Is it more important that I watch this thing than that other thing? It’s supposed to be entertainment for heaven’s sake… not a test of my skill as a TiVo user.

The Year Five data from the Center for the Digital Future found that Americans now log onto the internet with no objective… just to spend time having fun. That’s a key distinction between self improvement and self renewal– between an ought to do and a want to do. If I wait too long, TiVo transmogrifies the former into the latter.

Comments, please?

* To all my brand marketer friends out there… yes, I admit it: I use TiVo to skip the commercials. Sorry, y’all.

On Medium: Season 2 of “The Newsroom”

Just published a short piece on Season 2 of HBO’s “The Newsroom” over on Medium.com –“’Newsroom’ Season 2 Delivers: The problems of S1 turn into triumphs in S2.”

Here are the first few paragraphs:

I was crankily devoted to the first season on HBO of Aaron Sorkin’s latest intense one-hour drama featuring geniuses who have memorized entire statistical manuals, are unstoppably right at work and terminally dysfunctional in their personal lives.

“Crankily” because, as I’ve written elsewhere, the smug knowitallness of the characters rendered them irksome, and the two-year head start that Sorkin gave them by setting the show in the recent, memorable past amplified the smugness because of course they always got everything right— they were talking about things that just happened.

My friend Gary Saul Morson in his magnificent 1996 book “Narrative and Freedom: the Shadows of Time” calls this sort of thing “backshadowing,” which “turns the past into a well-plotted story” and removes from the past the hazy contingency, moment-to-moment panic and uncertainty and sheer improvisation of how we tactically moved in and out of the what we chose to focus on and the decisions we made at the time.

Read the whole piece at Medium…

Netflix’s Big OOPS– didn’t these guys take Psych 101?

Topline takeway for this post: Netflix has screwed up, turning unconsidered background choices into front-of-mind considerations. They don’t understand how pleasure and satisfaction work.

I’m on vacation and somewhat unplugged, but I was still connected enought to receive a surprising email from Netflix yesterday saying that if I want to retain both unlimited streaming and one disk out at a time, then my price will jump from $9.99 per month to $15.98 per month– and that this will happen by September 1st.

Thin-slicing report: my first thought was, “huh, guess it’s time to cancel Netflix.”

(Side note: the inevitable social media death spiral has already begun, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.)

Whomever made this call at Netflix HQ doesn’t understand how locally unsatisfying but globally satisfying the current Netflix product is.

Even though I probably only borrow a dozen titles per year in disk form — and those disks become a Tivo-guilt-like homework assignment — my satisfaction index for those choices is moderate if unscrutinized. These are things I know I want to see to a sufficient extent that I’ll actually forego other options in order to have Netflix send me the disk. Netflix is so low-pressure compared to the other video rental services it is driving out of business (no late fees, etc.) that I don’t pay attention to how much of the $120 per year is wasted or not optimized– a real set it and forget it service. And the unlimited free streaming on top of that makes me even less likely to ponder the value.

So even though no local choice is a slam dunk — the way going to see “Cars 2” with my kids this week is likely to be an eventful and memorable outing — my global level of satisfaction with the service is acceptable.

Likewise, my endless Netflix instant-streaming queue is composed of things I vaguely want to see but haven’t gotten around to yet. “Huh, they’ve got ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ already… okaaaaay.” Most of what I watch on Netflix I watch alone, and so the choice of what to watch is quite arbitrary and mood driven. There is no killer content on Netflix — nothing I can’t get elsewhere if I really want to see it — just an amazing range of good-enough content for vegetating on the couch after a long day. I don’t do a cost-benefit analysis because I still think of the streaming as a freebie on top of the disk-rental agreement.

Until now.

Now, Netflix has forced me to think critically, and that’s never a good idea with a customer. Here’s a sample of my internal monologue:

Is $7.99 per month is a good enough price for unlimited Netflix streaming by itself. What about Hulu Plus? Golly, I’m already spending a ton on Comcast and they have free and fee VOD… do I really need Netflix? What about Amazon Prime? I already have an account there.  Should I spend the $94 I’m about to spend on Netflix streaming on a Roku box to hook Prime up to the big screen in the living room?

And the same is true for the disks: for $120 I can buy most of what I want, use VOD via Comcast or Vudu or Xbox/Zune, or look more carefully at the offerings at my local library.

In Barry Schwartz’s remarkable 2003 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, he articulates that the problem of internet plenitude is that for every choice we do make the opportunity costs of the choices we don’t make sucks away our satisfaction away from the lucky thing chosen.

The current Netlix service — the one going away in the fall that combines one disk with unlimited streaming –neatly jumps over the Paradox of Choice because the opportunity costs of each choice are ameliorated by a different sort of plenitude. If I don’t like the disk, I can stream.  If I don’t like the stream, then what about that disk lying on my desk?

Each service compensated for the faults of the other, but — I think — neither is worth paying for itself alone when there are so many alternatives.

Right now, I’m paying monthly or annual service charges for:

  1. Comcast Cable with Premium Channels
  2. Amazon Prime
  3. Netflix
  4. Hulu Plus
  5. Xbox Live Gold

Something’s gotta give.  Until that email yesterday I wouldn’t have imagined that Netflix would be on the list of likely evictees.

Now it is.

Simile Search: Please Help This Writer!

I’m looking for evocative comparisons that talk about how one thing so automatically comes with another that we take the pairing for granted. Like, “the juice comes with the meat” (except it often doesn’t) or “the warmth that comes with the fire” but preferably less flabby.  Something taste or smell related (for its Proustian oomph) would be ideal.  If you can think of any, please share in comments.

Here’s why I’m asking:

My new book length project (now that Redcrosse is here) is called “The Shakespeare Strategy” and is all about why Shakespeare’s working context helped to constitute his immense business and cultural success, and that leads to an argument about how we don’t pay enough attention to context — including physiological and psychological context — nowadays.  For frequent readers you’ll recognize some of this in my longtime fascination with eventness.

I’m still working on the elevator pitch, but you can see the seed of the thinking here:

 
Before we had VCRs, DVRs, DVDs, streaming video, individual songs on iTunes and, newly, individual articles sold independently of their magazines context came automatically with our experience of music, TV, movies, newspaper and magazine articles.  Even books came in context because we found them in bookstores, libraries or catalogs.

We now lack much of that formerly automatic context, which is why books like Steve Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation are so interesting and relevant.

So I’m looking for comparisons that convey automatic pairings… as well as comparisons showing formerly automatic pairing that — once detached — reveal how accidental and contingent the link between the two things really was. That is, “the commercials that come with the TV show” (before DVRs) or “the sting that comes with the angry bee” (except more positive).

Any ideas? Please help!

Super Storytelling Smackdown: “Smallville” vs. “Thor”

This is a post about the difference between experiencing a story and remembering it later, a distinction that we pay too little attention to in the media world.  I’ll talk about theater, movies, TV, Superman, Thor and Shakespeare, and there will be spoilers… lots of ’em about the “Smallville” series finale, but I’ll be careful when it comes to “Thor.”

Those readers who have been following this blog or my other work at all will know that I’m a lifelong superhero geek, and over this weekend I hit a rare caped trifecta, watching the “Smallville” series finale, taking in the new “Thor” movie and receiving a big box of comic books from the shop in Los Angeles where I’ve been going since 1998.  I’m chewing my way through the comics, loved Thor (a bit more on this at the end) and have had a weird response to the Smallville finale where the farther I get from it the less I like it.

Although I got bored with the Clark/Lana/Lex triangle a few years ago and skipped a half season, I’ve watched Smallville for 10 years through the births of my two children, big career changes and a move from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. The entire series has been a build up to the moment when Clark Kent puts on the blue costume and red cape and flies off to greet the world as Superman. I’ve spent a decade on this hero’s journey.

So why, in the much-advertised and long-awaited series finale did they deny us the money shot? Yes, we had Clark holding the costume, flying to the big battle while holding the costume, and then we had him, wearing the union suit, but in close up gazing lovingly through the round window of an airplane at Lois. Yes, we had a blue blur flying through the sky towards battle, and yes we had him – seven years later — (I did mention the spoilers, right?) running across the Daily Planet rooftop pulling open his shirt to reveal the big red S to show us that Clark now fully inhabited the Superman role.

But we didn’t have this:

or this:

or this:

Why not? At one point I thought, maybe Tom Welling got fat– the way William Shatner plumped up during every season of the original “Star Trek” series (they only took his shirt off during the early episodes each season), but a quick tour through Google Images suggests that this isn’t the case.

It’s a huge failure on the part of the series, one that got me mulling over the flaws in the finale with a microscope… and that’s usually a bad sign. Days later, I realized that in addition to the lack of a money shot we also never heard the word “Superman” as a name, although we did have a Nietzschean moment where a character referred to a superman in flashback.

The worst series finale in TV history was “Quantum Leap,” where in a bump shot at the end we learned that Sam Beckett never returned home, even though the entire series was predicated on that return. When I saw that I lurched forward clutching my stomach like I’d been stabbed. Smallville, in contrast, couldn’t resolve this season on its own terms, spending most of the two hours on the soap opera and only a few minutes on the heroics.

The show runners got distracted by a bunch of characters to whom the audience had said goodbye years ago, most particularly Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor and John Schneider’s Jonathan Kent.  Annette O’Toole’s Martha Kent made an appearance as well, but since her character hadn’t died a few seasons ago that made sense. Why the team didn’t bring back Kristen Kreuk’s Lana Lang (not that I wanted this) alongside everybody else has, I presume, more to do with Kreuk’s availability than anything else.

Yes, the mythology states that Superman will battle Lex Luthor forever, but we didn’t need to spend 10 minutes with Lex and Clark in conversation only to have Lex’s memory wiped in the final moments of the episode. Yes, the memory of Clark’s human father guides him, but we didn’t need to have the ghost of Jonathan Kent literally hand Clark the super suit.  Ghosts are not a key part of the Superman mythos.

Nor did we need to kill off Lionel Luthor (who oddly turned into Gollum between his last appearance and the finale) and Tess Mercer just because they have no place in the comic book mythology. One of the great strengths of Smallville was the tension between the comic book mythology and its own—the series stopped being consistent with the Superboy/Superman origin story in the pilot, so why care so much in the finale?

In the finale we got too much of the man and not nearly enough of the super, but that has always been the case with the series. The problem was that the emotional drama of the tenth season was abandoned in favor of the Clark-growing-up arc that the audience finished years ago.

However, when I watched the finale on Friday night I rather enjoyed it. The eventful-ness of watching it on that night, carving out time after the kids were asleep and my wife was doing other things upstairs, watching it nearly in real time (I got a late start but caught up via DVR), these things swept me up and gave me that special momentum of real-time experience… the tide that carries us through experience.

The only thing I noticed in the moment was the lack of the costumed money shot, and my dissatisfaction with that gap is what kept me thinking about the finale, probing it like a tongue searching for a missing tooth.  Then, to mix metaphors, the entire episode unraveled.

This phenomenon where time reduces satisfaction is well known in theater and makes a certain amount of common sense.  When we are in the middle of things, particularly things that possess a great deal of eventness, we are surfing a wave of experience rather than mulling it over. The critic Bernard Beckerman expressed it this way in his 1979 book “Dynamics of Drama:”

The memorial experience is not distinct from the theatrical but merely a continuation beyond direct contact with the presentation.  The form of action induces the theatrical experience directly but has an indirect effect upon the memorial experience.  When unable to return to the same artistic work, the playgoer must either avail himself of a facsimile, such as a second performance of the same production, or be content to recall the initial experience. Once removed from his fellow spectators, he gains a new perspective of the work.  Responses elicited in performance may seem alien in retrospect.  The process of rumination alters the work (157).

Rumination is key to the superhero genre because after seventy plus years of stories about these characters they are saturated with inescapable foreknowledge. Do a search on famous fictional characters and both Superman and Batman show up early.

Even people who don’t know much about superheroes – my wife, for example, before our son joined me in the cape-o-philiac club – approach the genre knowing that the stories are embedded in a network of earlier versions of the tales and will be followed by later versions. Deeply satisfying stories within these contexts are aware of all their predecessors and heirs.  J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise, for example, was brilliant in its deft balancing of the old and new versions of the universe.

And this brings me to “Thor,” which managed to weave into its two-hour span allusions to the 1960s “Thor” comic books, to King Lear, the Empire Strikes Back, the Lord of the Rings, the Lion in Winter and embedded itself neatly into the other Marvel Comics movies of the last few and next few years.  This isn’t transmedia in Henry Jenkins‘s sense so much as a deeply allusive network of references and parallels that increases the satisfaction of movie going for the experienced viewer and gives her or him a qualitatively different evening than the newcomer to the genre.

I won’t perpetrate big spoilers for “Thor” because the movie is so worth seeing on the big screen in a top-notch theater with stadium seating. Visually stunning, charmingly acted and with an immense sense of scope, the combination of director Kenneth Branagh channeling his own Shakespearean movies (“Henry V,” “Hamlet,” “Much Ado About Nothing”) and story architect J. Michael Straczynski (who redefined the modern science fiction epic with “Babylon 5” and has spent the last couple years on Superman and Wonder Woman in comics) means that this movie understands and embraces epic.

“Thor” is a thrill ride (plenty of money shots with this one), and as my wife and I talked over the movie at dinner afterwards we found some things to pick apart (Natalie Portman joining Elizabeth Shue in “The Saint” in the ranks of brainy-sexy-unbelievable astro-physicists… although Portman is more convincing) but nothing that caused the experience to collapse in retroactive dissatisfaction.

Instead, we talked about how Loki echoes Edmund in King Lear, how this film links up with “The Incredible Hulk,” the “Iron Man” movies and the forthcoming “Captain America” and “Avengers” movies, and how Chris Hemsworth’s body is possibly the movie’s single-greatest special effect (as was that of Megan Fox in the first “Transformers” film).

Rumination, in the case of Thor, deepened engagement with both the story and the performance of the story, with the structure of the narrative and the way that the execution and casting (e.g., Anthony Hopkins as a Lear-like Odin) linked that performance to other stories.

Culturally, we tend to suffer from what I think of as the tyranny of the object when it comes to stories. We evaluate the thing itself and not the context in which we experience that thing. Our ability to buy just one song on iTunes means that we don’t think as much about an album, and the birth of new one-off journalism at Byliner (and see my previous post about Fortune) means that we don’t think about publications in the same gestalt way that we used to.

Both Smallville and Thor, though, are deeply contextual in their meaning-making and in the experiences of that meaning. Smallville is the end of the beginning of the Superman story. Thor is the start of that hero’s journey on earth and in the middle of the current Marvel movie epic.

The growth of digital media and distribution has eroded the easy context that came with analog media the way “Cheers” came after “The Cosby Show” to create NBC’s anchor Thursday night.

I believe that in the next few years we will pay more attention to context, and that in doing so we’ll also be more aware of the gap between the memorial experience and the in-the-moment experience of storytelling.

Good storytellers deliver on the in-the-moment experience. Great storytellers do that and also think about memorial rumination.

The take-away? Go see “Thor” while it’s still in the theaters.

The Shakespeare Brand: Yesterday’s iMedia Talk now UP on YouTube

UPDATE: More of the talk now embedded below.

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of speaking at the iMedia Brand Summit– an event that I’ve been intimately associated with for years but at which I’ve rarely presented while wearing my research hat.  This talk is the seed of my next book length project, and I was delighted to see that most of it is already on YouTube this morning:

 

Here’s the handbook description:

On February 11, 2011 Disney released a new kids movie called “Gnomeo & Juliet” based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Why? What made Disney think that an animated love story about lawn gnomes would somehow be better – or, at least, more marketable — with a connection to a play first performed in London in 1595? The answer is simple: Shakespeare created one of history’s most powerful brands. Allusions to and adaptations of his plays permeate our culture, and not just in movies and TV. In Corpus Christi in 1845, while serving in the infantry, bored and waiting for the Mexican War to start, future President Ulysses S. Grant killed time playing the role of Desdemona– the female lead in “Othello.” Imagine George W. Bush or Barack Obama doing that! We don’t typically think of Shakespeare as a successful brand story, but we should because the way Shakespeare created, bonded with and nurtured his customer base has actionable lessons for marketers today. Don’t get distracted by the tights, skulls, swords and iambic pentameter: what really distinguished Shakespeare was his longitudinal and economic relationship with his customers. In today’s insight address, iMedia’s own Chief Content Officer (and a bona fide Shakespearean) will unpack this economic relationship and explore how deploying the Shakespeare Strategy can empower marketing in today’s digital media landscape.

I’ll post when Part II comes live or repost the whole thing to YouTube once I get the files.

Please let me know what you think!