- Parent Category: News
In his watershed 1964 work “Understanding Media,” Marshall Macluhan posed a thought experiment. If a new media were established which offered buyers and sellers a free venue for trade, classified advertising in newspapers would collapse. This collapse would eliminate the fifth estate, thus threatening the existence of democracy itself. The advent of “new media” such as ebay and craigslist have now apparently made this thought experiment a reality.
The age of alternative weeklies coincided with the birth of the internet, but with the advent of the so-called “web 2.0” and the ascent of Facebook and Google, print publications of all sorts took a financial hit. Advertisers flocked to the new media and as a consequence, many publications saw a decline in ad revenue. Printing and distribution costs continued to increase while classified advertisers moved to the internet. The mix of advertisers that news organizations depended on to make tight budgets, namely smaller local businesses and larger national campaigns started to evaporate, forcing staff cuts. Local investigative reporting was replaced with cheaper opinion pieces, soon even nominal guest writer fees disappeared. Local alternative journalism simply did not survive the jump to the so-called “gig economy.”
What was euphemistically called the “chinese wall” between news reporting and paid advertising content started to disappear completely in many instances. Various not-for-profit entities crept into the void, but the thousand points of light envisioned by the late George Bush are themselves constricted by the interests of their often times corporate donors. And now a message from our sponsors….The struggle to remain in print made it difficult to maintain a compelling website. As local publications threw in the towel to concentrate on the web, they found that ad revenue there was even harder to come by. The web 2.0 giants Google and Facebook now enjoy a defacto monopoly share of all internet ad revenue in the US. Furthermore the internet has become a vast ocean,
making local news websites evaporate from consciousness, like so many droplets of water.
The slow decline of print journalism mirrors the rise of the internet. Most people in the U.S. now get their news from Facebook. Facebook is not a news organization. It does not fund investigative journalism. Traditional newspapers have sought to stem their losses by putting their copy on the internet behind a paywall. Meanwhile, local newspapers have suffered greatly. They have filled the void of local stories with syndicated national news, and have geared their news product towards what is popular with readers. Their readers are now more of a target market for their advertisers, than a community of participants in a democracy.
Prior to the rise of the internet, free, local alternative weekly newspapers flourished as local daily newspapers consolidated into monopoly dailies. Now all news print publications are being confronted with the loss of advertising revenue. This loss of revenue is not just due to the reduction of classifieds, Google has ushered in a whole new era of internet advertising. Ken Auletta’s 2010 book, “Googled: the end of the world as we know it,” explored this new landscape. Subsequent events have done little to assuage the grave concerns presented in that analysis.
News organizations have yet to find a more effective way to navigate this new landscape than paywalls. Perhaps this is due to the assumption that consumers will prefer to access news sites via a desktop computer. The smart phone era has created a new paradigm. Young people, especially, look to the cell phone as the organizing talisman of their lives. This is consistent with McLuhan’s thesis that the fracturing of “old media,”tends to favor a “new” tribalism.
If we accept McLuhan’s definition of all media as “...extensions of man,” the somewhat frightening increased dependence on smartphone technology can be understood as an historical cycle. At the pinnacle of the commanding heights of the global economy, the new media giants look down on a potpourri of balkanized special interests or “tribes” that are utterly dependent on them even for such mundane tasks as keeping phone numbers, calendar appointments, etc. In the case of Facebook their customers are their actual product. The resistance of any member tribe to this system is actually profitable for them.
In this respect the new media is much like the old in their stubborn dedication to false equivalencies. They condone hate speech in the name of furthering “bipartisan discussion.” They present “two sides of a coin” without any critical analysis.
In his new book released in June, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” tech pioneer, Jaron Lanier is urging people to start opting out. A New York Times review of the book highlights the complexities behind the simplistic idea of breaking way:“Many of his criticisms of social media will feel familiar to distant observers of American politics. Twitter and Facebook have made us cruder, less empathetic, more tribal. Only at the very end does Lanier venture into new territory. His argument, however, is a profound one. He worries that our reliance on big tech companies is ruining our capacity for spirituality, by turning us into robotic extensions of their machines. The companies, he argues, have no appreciation for the “mystical spark inside you.” They don’t understand the magic of human consciousness and, therefore, will recklessly destroy it.”
The question becomes whether the current McLuhan-esque tribalism will continue to be exploited to produce further human misery or rather lead us into a process of reunification guided “...by the better angels of our nature,” as President Lincoln said in his first inaugural address.
By Aurore Duiguo
[Editor’s note: The future of MoviePass has recently been called into question. Company CEO Mitch Lowe has had to install restrictions of the number of movies a member could see, as well as preventing members from seeing selected new films at the beginning of their run. Fees have been raised. Lowe is trying to lead his company out of a financial hole. This essay is a defense of MovePass by Aurore Duiguo, one of its earliest members.]
At its start, MoviePass was a monthly service that enabled subscribers to see a movie a day at theaters across the United States.
It offered an opportunity to watch great independent films, or the latest blockbuster, and it was the perfect way to discover local theaters you might not have previously patronized.
MoviePass used to be expensive, and then the price dropped to attract more customers until it no longer became sustainable. Today, people are saying MoviePass is going to die, but I still believe in it.
Here is why: MoviePass ensures movies' independence from distributors and cemented the concept of a movie subscription service in the U.S.
The idea of a monthly pass for movies was new to the U.S. and different from Europe where major movie theater chains had their own monthly passes and promoted their films through them. The real added value of MoviePass was to keep films independent from control by movie theaters and to broaden a moviegoer's horizon.
Because of the MoviePass app, and depending on the city, after a hard day’s work, an advertising executive could discover a film noir from the 1930s available at 10:00 on a Monday night in a local theater close to her apartment. That drama could possibly make her day, and even change her perspective about a coworker's promotion, way more than the new blockbuster she initially planned to see would have done.
MoviePass also inaugurated the concept of a nationwide movie subscription service in the U.S. For years, MoviePass was a niche product for real movie lovers because of its expensive price (between $39 and $50 a month depending on the city). Before that, only local theaters' reward cards existed as incentives for loyal customers to watch additional movies.
MoviePass was not initially meant to convince average Sunday movie-goers to watch more films because they would most likely be loyal to big theater chains with discounted prices rather than be willing to pay more to see amazing content everywhere. However, these mega-theater chains had no monthly offering.
So, MoviePass made its move... and tried to extend its product to a population that initially didn't see the added value of it without a price drop. Huge movie distributors then reacted and created their own monthly passes and average customers followed them.
As a real movie lover, I don't mind going back to the old MoviePass business model – a movie a day – and paying $45 a month for it like before. It is totally worth it because it provides great content. Being expensive is not a bad thing when what you offer is beneficial.
There are many promotional possibilities left for MoviePass, such as building partnerships with second-tier movie theaters or food networks, granting independent MoviePass users' labels, selling sneak peak screenings, etc. So please Mitch Lowe bring it back. I'll pay for it.
Aurore Duiguo is an account manager living in New York City. She has written, directed, and produced plays and short films in France and the United States. She is passionately interested in motion pictures and hopes to make a living as a full-time filmmaker somewhere down the road.
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