Time Out Of Mind

Big media have never understood the basics of the Internet information transaction. Perhaps they never will.

Time Warner and News Corp. represent two good examples of this aggressive, insistent Cluelessness. They think brand equals trust, and trust means you buy. So they demand your money before they give value. They think information is a top-down, not a bottom-up business, because the products that are their heritage take time, money and coordination to create.

So Time Warner has embarked on yet-another Clueless web strategy, starting with the launch of a new site called Entertaindom. (The accent here should be on the last syllable, as in dumb.)

The site’s home page is busier than Richard Scarry’s Busytown, and filled with boxes and buttons demanding you “buy now” and “click here” to love the studio’s brands. The twirling “headlines” are all a week old, and their writers don’t know how much space they have to write in. (One example from Tuesday – “Here’s Why Bond Will Score Again Over the Thanksgiving.”) Oh, and they’ve taken a Clue from the porn industry – clicking your “back” button lands you back on the same page (you have to double-click to get out).

According to Variety, the New York Post, and Bloomberg, the new site represents a year of planning, the last six months under Richard Bressler, who also manages the company’s investment in the Road Runner cable modem operation. The idea seems to be to offer some little films (read commercials), use brand to build a big audience, and thereby reassert control of all media through the web.

I can’t imagine a more Clueless set of assumptions, and a worse execution, if I tried. Credibility must be earned every day, by offering honest impartial information. That’s something Warner Brothers, as a single studio, can’t do.

Fox got into the game late, but that doesn’t stop them from repeating mistakes rival Viacom made four years ago. In its latest “move,” the company is going after fan sites devoted to shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. When Viacom did this they nearly killed their huge “Star Trek” franchise. But Fox doesn’t care – they’re also using JavaScript to frustrate incoming links on their news site.

Both Time Warner and Fox’ parent News Corp. are hatching schemes that can only be dreamed up in corporate boardrooms, where the market (and its billions of participants) are mere theory, and not real people with real browsers and real email programs (not to mention real “back” buttons).

So since they won’t listen, you can beat them. Let me summarize how with a few choice Clues:

  • Trust your audience.

  • Give before you demand money or attention.
  • Remember that acceptance isn’t the same thing as approval – one person who loves you online is more important than 100 casual acquaintances.
  • The best decisions are made on the firing line, where creators and customer service people meet the market one-on-one. The best Internet decisions percolate from the bottom, and are ratified at the top.
  • When you listen with your eyes and think before speaking with your fingers, you have a Clue. When you talk without listening you don’t.
  • If you think you know it all, you don’t. Go back to the top of this list and try harder.

Gerald Levin will never understand these Clues. Rupert Murdoch will never understand these Clues. If you do, you will outlast them.

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