The Land of Private-Sector Boondoggles

The New York Time Magazine this week carries a brief essay about how South Korea runs its internet. They don’t do what we do here in the proving ground of capitalist dictatorship. While we permit private profit ranchers to own our internet infrastructure, South Korea has its Ministry of Science lay and control the pipes.

The results are predictable:

Seoul is blanketed with free Wi-Fi that offers the world’s fastest Internet speeds — twice as fast as the average American’s. Back in 1995, the government began a 10-year plan to build out the country’s broadband infrastructure and, through a series of public programs, to teach Koreans what they could do with it. South Korea also eased regulations on service providers to ensure that consumers would have a multitude of choices — in marked contrast to America, where a handful of cable and telecommunications monopolies dominate the market. Such healthy competition in Korea keeps the cost of access low.

To maintain South Korea’s lead, the country’s Science Ministry recently announced a $1.5 billion initiative to upgrade Korea’s mobile infrastructure. By 2020, the government predicts, it will be 1,000 times faster — so fast you could download a feature-length movie in approximately one second. In the same time frame, the Federal Communications Commission hopes to wire most American homes with broadband Internet with speeds of at least 100 megabits per second, or roughly one-sixtieth of South Korea’s goal.

Here’s one telling result:

American mobile design is fetishistically minimalist. Silicon Valley applauds itself for good taste in this regard, but this aesthetic has sprung up partly in response to a deficiency: Americans have learned to strip out bandwidth-guzzling elements because they slow down loading times. Korean designers, lacking such bandwidth restraints, can stuff their apps full of all the information and widgets they like. On-screen real estate isn’t an issue, either, because Koreans prefer massive phones. While the “phablet” — the missing link between a phone and a tablet — is popular as a punch line in the United States, it’s been in high demand in South Korea for years.

This trans-Pacific gap in bandwidth is so pronounced that Korean developers often have to strip down their software if they want to take it stateside.

None of this, of course, enters into our pathetic debates over whether to place a few paltry regulations on our holders of licenses to steal. Despite such stark facts, even our reformers dutifully refrain from mentioning what a terrible idea it is to let capitalists own basic public facilities.

Ralph Roberts’ Favorite Saying

ralph Ralph Roberts founded Comcast before handing its reins to his son, Brian L. Roberts. Here’s how Ralph describes his business’s core idea:

I didn’t burn any bridges with Muzak when I left there, and my brother, who unfortunately passed away in 1972, had been the advertising director at Revlon and had a similar career to mine. He was also in advertising and marketing, and Muzak Corporation, after I had left for some time, invited him to come over to be a senior vice-president of the company, and one day he came in to me and he said, “You know, Ralph, we ought to buy some of these franchises. They’re a license to steal as recurring monthly income.” That was our favorite expression, just like cable. You put in the equipment and every month they send you money.

Such is the true stuff of the great private-sector boondoggles.

Comcast Monopoly: The Marketing Logic

Per today’s Advertising Age:

Acceleration of addressable advertising

One of the biggest obstacles to ad targeting at the household level has been a lack of broad reach, which makes running campaigns across multiple operators a clumsy and inefficient effort. The merger should eventually help expand the addressable universe to the kind of scale that advertisers desire and speed up advances in areas such as dynamic ad insertion.

And increasingly, Comcast will have the data to make addressable smarter. With about 30 million set-top boxes, it will have an even bigger trove of ratings information, viewing habits and personal data. Combined with marketers’ own data, that will help planners and buyers laser focus their media selections, Mr. Kanefsky said.

Belly Laugh on Media Monopoly

media-monopoly1 The filters that govern mainstream journalism sometimes produce sentences that are simply hilarious. Reporting today on the proposed merger between the Comcast and Time-Warner media profit fiefdoms, The New York Times notes that “the deal, if completed, could have impacts on consumers across the country, though it is unlikely to reduce competition in many markets.”

To be sure, you can’t really reduce what does not exist, can you?

From 1984 to 2010: The Emergence of “Household-Level Addressability”

big_brother Regardless of the state of the wider human and ecological world, corporate capitalism pushes market totalitarianism ever farther up the asymptote.

Advertising Age is reporting that addressable television advertising, long coveted by corporate marketers, has reached the point of being “an emerging concept.”  2010, Ad Age says, is the year when TV addressability will move from small test runs to full implementation into the broadcast streams for millions of U.S. households.   “Next year is when you’ll start to see how addressability gets sucked into a more core marketing strategy,” said Visible World President Tara Walpert Levy to the long-running marketing journal.

So what is “addressable TV advertising” and why does it matter?  Ad Age explains the technique:

Two types of addressable technologies are available: zone addressability and household. Zone refers to a group of ZIP codes or neighborhoods that can often be bundled demographically, so a marketer can target a predominantly upper-income neighborhood or a predominantly Spanish-speaking area. Household addressability can target TV viewers based on specific data ranging from age to sex to current ownership of consumer goods.

In other words, big business marketers are about to gain the ability to send customized advertisements to specific geographic and demographic targets, down to the level of the individual household.

Thanks to cable television’s progressive replacement of old-fashioned ether-based broadcasting, corporate marketers have long been able to collect detailed viewing-behavior data from individual households.  Now, their customers (big business advertisers) will also be able to tailor the marketing communications going back into those households according to what they’ve learned from their prior analysis of not just viewing, but also shopping, demographic, psychographic, and financial data.  Corporate capacities for creating and measuring the effects of behavioral stimuli are poised, once again, to expand.

Will it actually work?  Will ad-addressability bring our already comprehensively commodified, commercialized, and deskilled personal lives into still tighter compliance with the dictates of the bottom line of the world’s private-jetting overclass?

Ad Age again:

Ad Age, Visible World and Cablevision’s poll found over 59% of respondents considered addressable advertising to be at least 50% more effective than a non-targeted campaign.

Cablevision’s Optimum Cable recently advertised its triple-play subscription packages in New York with household addressable ads that targeted customers based on current subscriptions. Households that subscribed only to wireless and phone packages received ads offering a package that included cable, while cable-only households were offered a package that included phone and high-speed data services. David Kline, president-Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp., said the company saw a double-digit lift in subscriptions among the targeted households. In zone addressability, Cablevison’s recently launched Optimum Select allows viewers to interact with an ad to request information or request a product sample, “We’ve seen really phenomenal response from consumers in our first month,” Mr. Kline said. “We often run out of product.”

Though capitalism remains comparatively subtle and anarchic, the arrival of “household-level addressability” constitutes a real step beyond the telescreens of Orwell’s Big Brother.  Those could only look in on you.  Nobody in Oceania sat in front of their telescreen for fun.  Certainly, nobody was addicted to sitting in front of them.  People didn’t stand around the water cooler talking about what they saw on the telescreen last night.  Oceanians didn’t purchase giant, energy-sucking, room-dominating plasma telescreens and hook them up to telescreen recorders.

We “Americans,” the supposedly privileged residents of the allegedly history-ending, best-of-all-possible-worlds, do.  Meanwhile, our Earth-wrecking masters are laughing all the way to the bailed-out bank.

Economic Blacklisting: Why it’s 570 Channels and Still Nothin’ On

Springsteen’s song in 1992 was “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).”

Now, it’s 570, of course.

Why?

Why the plethora of themed channels, but the continuing wall-to-wall reliance on pablum, snoozefests, and re-runs? Why is “Spongebob Squarepants” smarter, better-written, wiser, and more relevant-to-real-life than every single new program for grown-ups?

Independent film-maker Lloyd Kaufman explains:

I was recently elected to be chairman of the Independent Film And Television Alliance, and I ran on the platform of lobbying in Washington to educate the lawmakers and FCC that independent art is under assault in this country—and under a pepper, too, but that’s beside the point. Comcast won’t talk to Troma. We’ve been in business for 30 years and have 800 movies, and they won’t talk to us. If we give one of our movies to some middleman at Time Warner or whatever, then they’ll talk to them, so there’s another layer of revenue that we lose.

The limited access to the marketplace is economic blacklisting. If you’re an independent, you don’t get on TV. And in the rare instances that you do get on, you get a fraction of what that very same movie would get if it came in through Fox or Viacom.

Like every other major dimension of market totalitarianism, this one remains unacknowledged in both the mainstream media and the public utterances of the power elite.