Twitter Litter

Corporate capitalist transportation system painted itself into a corner and threatening to blow up and/or burn out the world? Market totalitarianism’s answer? Bail it out to do more of the same!

Corporate capitalist for-profit health care radically mis-allocating resources and generating near-universal anguish? Market totalitarianism’s answer? Make it illegal not to purchase private health insurance!

Corporate capitalist media system promoting mass addiction to egregiously vapid time-wasting while simultaneously making it impossible to comprehend the most basic information needed for democratic citizenship? Market totalitarianism’s answer? Make sure commercialism reaches down to the tiniest tentacle of the media matrix.

“Maintaining Control”: The Richistanis’ DVR Crisis

One of the advantages of bothering to read big business marketing’s professional literature is that it very efficiently disabuses you of sponsored illusions about the “freedom” part of the so-called “free market.”

Consider the alarm expressed over the spread of digital video recorders (DVRs) in this week’s issue of Advertising Age:

By letting viewers skip ads, that pesky DVR has already gnawed away at the system media conglomerates have used for decades to score billions of dollars in ad revenue. Now it’s primed to become a phenomenon on the order of a locust — with an ability to multiply rapidly and do even more significant damage.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for New York last week overturned a ruling that had blocked Cablevision — and by extension, other cable providers — from making use of a “network DVR” that would allow it to run a massive video-storing operation from a single location rather than installing individual DVRs in each subscriber’s home. Using the technology, consumers can record programs through their remote control without a new set-top box, conceivably turning every TV in the house into a machine that records TV shows — and can skip past the ads that support them.

“With the stroke of a pen, the U.S. Court of Appeals has opened the door to a massive increase in the penetration of DVR capabilities,” wrote Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett in an Aug. 4 research note. “In short order, effective DVR penetration could now jump to north of 60% of cable households (that is, all digital cable subscribers) with an even larger increase in DVR outlets per home,” Mr. Moffett added.

Ad Age makes no bones about what this gnawing locust infestation means: It is a threat to corporate capacities for “Maintaining Control” over prospective cutomers’ off-the-job activities:

By letting viewers skip ads, that pesky DVR has already gnawed away at the system media conglomerates have used for decades to score billions of dollars in ad revenue. Now it’s primed to become a phenomenon on the order of a locust — with an ability to multiply rapidly and do even more significant damage.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for New York last week overturned a ruling that had blocked Cablevision — and by extension, other cable providers — from making use of a “network DVR” that would allow it to run a massive video-storing operation from a single location rather than installing individual DVRs in each subscriber’s home. Using the technology, consumers can record programs through their remote control without a new set-top box, conceivably turning every TV in the house into a machine that records TV shows — and can skip past the ads that support them.

“With the stroke of a pen, the U.S. Court of Appeals has opened the door to a massive increase in the penetration of DVR capabilities,” wrote Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett in an Aug. 4 research note. “In short order, effective DVR penetration could now jump to north of 60% of cable households (that is, all digital cable subscribers) with an even larger increase in DVR outlets per home,” Mr. Moffett added.

All this, of course, means that the underlying purpose of commercial television — attracting eyeballs and eardrums to corporate capitalist behavior modification campaigns, a.k.a. “advertising” — is being undermined by a rare opening for democratic preference.

No bones are made about what must be done in response:

The media companies’ objection to Cablevision’s video-storage technology is that they believe it infringes on their exclusive rights to air and reproduce the content in question. Those companies that create the content want to maintain a level of control over when and how it is viewed, in order to be able to monetize it by selling advertising against it. The networks have been reluctant to make their content available for new-media venues such as streaming online until they have the ability to have some sort of control over getting consumers to watch ads.

The media conglomerates have tried everything to keep the paradigm-shifting DVR technology from worming its way further into consumer life. Walt Disney’s ABC has made hit shows like “Desperate Housewives” available for cable providers’ video-on-demand offerings, but only in exchange for the cable company disabling viewers’ ability to fast-forward. Time Warner Cable has introduced features that let viewers “start over” a favorite show but the trade-off is they must watch the ads that accompany it.

None of this has weaned consumers, now accustomed to watching shows as they wish, from their ad-skipping addiction. “They don’t want to watch commercials, but they won’t pay to not watch commercials,” said John Senior, a partner-media and entertainment practice at Oliver Wyman.

In other words, here comes another big business blitzkrieg: Expect massive new efforts to block, favorably redesign, and/or sidestep DVRs, plus a redoubling of already intense ongoing efforts to insert advertising elements even more deeply and widely into all media “content” on all “platforms,” especially including the thing that was once quaintly known as the “information superhighway.”

Junk Mail on Steroids

Big business marketing and advertising are much more Pavlovian and much less magical and postmodern than most critics have claimed.

If you doubt this, consider how television advertising, the endeavor that funds and delimits almost all the program “content” on US television, actually functions. Here is long-time marketing consultant Erwin Ephron describing it:

For example, a shampoo brand buys daytime TV at $10.00 for a thousand 30-second exposures.

Since each incremental unit of shampoo sold makes a $2.00 contribution to profit (i.e. wholesale price minus marginal cost), then fewer than five incremental sales can cover the cost of the advertising.

And also the cost of talking to 994 other potential customers who may be in the market next week!

Micro-marketers who argue that exposures not resulting in a sale are wasted, are as wrong-headed as people who argue that advertising shouldn’t be expected to sell at all. Some exposures sell, but all exposures build broad market awareness, shift attitudes and help create the brand value, which is the foundation for the next sale. These are the hard and soft effects of TV advertising.

The economics of network television for a super-upscale brand like Mercedes are even more remarkable. For Mercedes, one incremental sale can pay the costs of network messages to a million men and women.

True, most of them will never buy the car, but those messages are not wasted, either. They help to create the broad-market perception that Mercedes is special, which makes owning a Mercedes one so attractive to the small group of consumers who have the money.

For super-upscale products, value to the purchaser is often in the eye of all those millions of non-purchasers.

In other words, considered from the point of view of its sponsors, television is junk mail on steroids.

And we’ve long since surrendered our civil society to this inherently discombobulating and addictive force.

This great surrender, of course, remains completely “off the table” of mainstream politics and media coverage, despite its extreme threat to us, our democracy, and the world our rampaging sponsoring class is still bullying.