Friday, March 30, 2007

The television-Web mix: Why doesn't it work yet?

At Medill we talk constantly about the changing landscape of media and the Internet tidal wave. It seems that news stations across the country are doing their best to acclimate to this new environment, but for some reason they all seem to fall flat in their attempts. What I've been trying to figure out, particularly since coming to Medill, is what exactly they are doing wrong?

"The Most" on MSNBC is the most thorough attempt I've seen yet, and I still think it does a less than stellar job. The idea is that it's a show (as the opening tag puts it) "where you decide and we report on the news you want--the news you need--the most." It draws its news primarily from the "Most Viewed" and "Most Emailed" articles on Internet news outlets like Yahoo!, Google, and of course "The Most" has also started a webcast of the show (there's even a Web pre-show before the host, Alison Stewart, goes on air). Its website posts a question each day, and then airs several of the Web responses during the television show.

On the surface, I think the idea is pretty clever. It tries to make the television show as interactive-seeming as possible. Plus, the stories are ostensibly the type of stories that viewers themselves select. The show also has "Webby" elements: it has a tech segment every day and often showcases YouTube videos.

So where's the problem? Why doesn't "The Most" have the type of appeal or profile you might expect?

It's possible that part of the show's low profile comes from factors beyond its control, such as the midday time slot. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the show's main problem is really that the innovations act more as a gimmick than as a strong foundation.

The show still adheres to the standard broadcast format (with the exception that Alison Stewart keeps a laptop in front of her at all times). Moreover, the stories look a lot like the ones you see everywhere else. MSNBC has made sure that the show's A and B blocks are all the top news stories of the day. This means that most of the "Webby" features come in the form of graphics or feature stories at the end of the show.

Another problem is that the show overall doesn't seem targeted to the right demographic. I think it needs to carry the young vibe throughout the programming. The tech segment and Multimedia approach attract a younger viewer, but a lot of the stories are told from an older perspective (to a homeowner, a mother, etc.). The content doesn't gear itself consistently toward a specific age group.

The result is a show that has a lot of great concepts that could push forward a new approach to television. But in the end, it lacks the full commitment to its endeavor.


At Friday, March 30, 2007, Blogger HAW said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it's a gimmick. I think that's the problem with most webcasts and "new media" productions. Stop trying to do it just because everyone else is! Put up a webcast because it's good and different than what's on TV, not just to keep up with everyone else or because it's the way media is headed. Because there is more space on the web and it can be changed in second, there is less risk to posting material. The New York Times isn't going to try out gimmicky things on its front page---that's pricey real estate. So to the new media producers, editors, etc.: Try out new stuff but do it for a reason; people might actually watch.

At Saturday, March 31, 2007, Blogger mm said...

The idea that we give the people what they want has inherent ethical questions (as we discussed during class last Monday). What if viewers vote to watch ONLY celebrity news? What if none of the topics they elect have any relevance to their lives? What will we do then?

To explore this issue, I looked at the three most popular videos on at 3:42 p.m on Saturday. Take a stab at guessing what they were.
(A) Google accused of airbrushing history of Hurricane Katrina
(B) South Park takes a jab at Hillary Clinton
(C) Kindergartener behind bars
(D) Breaking down the final four matchups
(E) Simon surprised American Idol contestant still in the game
(F) Iran's president calls British forces "arrogant."

If you guessed B, C and E, you're correct. American Idol was the most popular; the arrested kindergartener story came in second; and the South Park package rounded out the top three. I understand the pop culture stories -- they're light, relevant and something you might want to send your buddy on a Saturday afternoon ... but the kindergartener story? No one was hurt, she was pulled out of jail on the same day and no legal action had been taken on the issue yet. Do you get it? Holler back.

While CNN's Web audience may not be representative of the internet audience as a whole, I find its most popular list a little worrisome. The people have spoken, and apparently they want entertainment/bizzaro news.


Post a Comment

<< Home