Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Pivotal moment?

When we look back, will we find the contrast in this weekend's Live 8 coverage between AOL and MTV to be a pivotal moment in the shift from TV to Web? Pivotal as in everything changes from here -- probably not. Pivotal in that it has many more people talking about the potential of the Web -- and the stark differences with TV and other existing media-- likely.

The AP's David Bauder observed: "Television seemed shockingly old-fashioned during Saturday's worldwide concert for poverty relief. AOL's coverage was so superior, it may one day serve as a historical marker in drawing people to computers instead of TV screens for big events."

Knight Ridder's Beth Gillen said: "If Live Aid helped launch MTV as a media powerhouse two decades ago, Live 8 not only dethroned the music channel Saturday, but it also made it seem quaintly old-fashioned. The Internet left cable in the dust. To put it bluntly, MTV sank and AOL soared."

From Jon Fort, the Mercury News' senor Web editor: "The peak of my frustrating TV experience was during Pink Floyd's performance. It was during 'Comfortably Numb,' I believe, that an MTV VJ cut in and starting rambling about how amazing it was that Pink Floyd was there playing. Yes, I thought. And It's only slightly less amazing that you're cutting away from this amazing performance to yap about it, and then show a Taco Bell commercial. ... At that moment I felt like a lost soul swimming in a fish bowl. I wished I were home, watching the Floyd on AOL instead."

Media Post's "Just an Online Minute" (sub. req.) is a little more down to earth: "Still, to put Saturday's numbers in perspective, consider that in 1985, an estimated 95 percent of TV households worldwide tuned in to the first Live Aid concerts. While AOL's weekend numbers are impressive, they don't compare to the reach TV can deliver. ... The streams also were nowhere near the quality of television--at least on the Minute's computer. Regardless, there's a lot to be said for being able to stream live and without interruption. ... Time will tell whether Live 8 will define the Web's place in the media world. But for now, it's as close to a pivotal moment the online world has seen."

Full disclosure: I did not see AOL's coverage -- I don't have broadband at home. And I saw only snippets of MTV. So what I'm going to say is based largely on what others have written:

-- MTV made the same mistake being made by a lot of big media (too many reporters and editors included): The failure to SHUT UP! Let the event happen. Interrupt/comment only when necessary, or, as one former news director of mine once said: Get the hell out of the way and let the news happen. (Want some recent news examples? Think Jacko and runaway bride.)

But this was an entertainment event; how might it apply to news? In our always-on world, there will be more live coverage of more news events, and they won't require big, expensive, professional rigs to pull off. If I can get it on the Web, live and uncut, or on TV, interrupted by the chattering classes, where am I more likely to go? I remember, as a young man, being rivited by the May 1974 siege of the Symbionese Liberation Army house in Los Angeles. That was another of those pivotal moments -- one of the first live shots nationwide of that kind of breaking news event. And one of the things I remember to this day was that the anchors said relatively little, letting the gunshots and tear gas and fire speak for itself. It was riveting, even though a single camera several hundred feet away isn't the best TV in the world.

-- MTV failed to see that its competition was really AOL. The morning after, MTV wasn't being compared to what was on the other channels. It was being compared to the Internet coverage. The news buisness already has had to deal with this and may be starting to understand it. Expect to see more of it.

-- Media Post is right -- 5 million people is barely a thimbleful in the ocean of media audiences. But as Fort notes, "Five million people can create a lot of buzz."

Gillen wrote this: "Some packaged highlights of the concerts into specials for later viewing. But only the Internet made you feel as if you were there." In an era when we're being told that people want to "experience" the news, that's something worth considering.


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