How Much Is Online News Consumption Changing Our Consumption of Other Media?

by , Apr 16, 2003, 12:00 AM
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There wasn't so much buzz after the Super Bowl commercials this year. Why not? Maybe it was the new austerity, or the justifiable preoccupation with the War in Iraq. Did Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, just knock them all out? Or was it something else?

One Super Bowl commercial that was among the most recalled by viewers was the anti-drug effort of the US Government, which tied teen pregnancy to marijuana use. While among those most recalled, it was also almost universally vilified, according to a panel study conducted by BBI Systems. BBI Systems took an interesting look at how viewers regarded Super Bowl ads, and came up with a response that was somewhat akin to a yawn.

BBI Systems also has polled Web users on how the different news anchors and outlets have been covering the war in Iraq. And much of what they reported seems to indicate the usual disregard for a perceived liberal media bias, along with a newfound disregard for the increasing editorializing and personality-injecting of the major news outlets themselves. In other words, viewers just want more of the facts and less from the minds behind the talking heads themselves, thank you.

Is there a link here? Has our national mood become so sober that we don't want to be entertained as much by our broadcast news or by the commercials around the programs we watch? Or, is it something else? Many more of us are getting our news from the Web these days. And we all know how much Web use has soared during this Middle Eastern conflict. Is this part of the Web-ification of our news consumption now - that we want more data and less slant or entertainment in the delivery of our news?

The Wall Street Journal did a fascinating side-by-side analysis of al-Jazeera's coverage compared to CNN, with predictable results. Words mean things, especially when the words "Invaders" and "Liberating Coalition Troops" are used to describe the same guys.

Admit it, how many of you check out the al-Jazeera site regularly?

So, what's the point? The point is that this is something that we can only do online. Change the channel from CNN and you can get the other majors, and even Fox, the coverage from which is to the right of, well, most of us. But, you can't get anywhere near the range of coverage nor perspectives that you can get with a point and click on the Web.

I think it's easy for us to take for granted that the range and perspectives of the Web have changed not only how media is viewed by consumers but also what consumers and brands both have come to expect from their exchange. The Web has passed television in terms of driving the sensibilities of much of America. It's not just about having a wider palette; it's about expecting a broader response.

But, think about this with respect to the fact that CNN essentially made their brand with their coverage of the first Gulf War, and alongside the fact that now, most of the world outside the US regards CNN's coverage as too sanitized and one-sided, and really more about Wolf B. et al than about the war itself.

Consider that it's only been about a decade since CNN became all that, and just since '94 that AOL crashed for a day. On the days following that crash, some critics said it was all washed up, and the Web was not serious media. Of course, AOL now owns the company that owns CNN, despite the crash of the digital world. I think this implies that not only have the ways we consume news changed - the sophistication of this consumption, along with the sophistication of how we regard all media - including the ads - has grown significantly. The first Gulf War wasn't really that long ago, was it?

We've seen how long ago it was in terms of how we consume the news around it. Getting back to the original premise, what has changed since then about the ads we watch on TV?

Think of the Swedish Bikini Team, brought to you by Hal Riney and Partners for Old Milwaukee Beer in 1991. (Some of you probably have never stopped thinking of the Swedish Bikini Team. Anyway, as obviously campy and ironic as that ad was, it was pulled with much furor shortly after its first appearance. Fast-forward to this January, and the Lite Beer from Miller Fighting underwear models are offered to us in two versions of their "Storytelling" creative - the tamer broadcast version and the racier late night and cable version.

This similarly campy ad isn't the harbinger of the evolution I'm describing. Men drink beer and sex sells is not exactly a cutting edge view. The harbinger resides in the new Lite Beer ads that followed, with multiple creative versions of "Storytelling" as told from women, with men in the campy or comically objectified roles. The point isn't that the new ads are great creative, or even clever. Thanks in large part to the Web we've entered a postmodern point in our industry's development. There was a planned response to the hue and cry - and now it's being executed. Everyone has different expectations now. This is owed, in large part, to the Web.

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