Real Media Riffs - Thursday, Feb 1, 2007

HOW TO READ "REAL MEDIA RIFFS" -- First, and perhaps most importantly, treat "real" as a euphemism.

Apparently, some readers did not understand this when they read Wednesday's scoop on the early, remarkable findings coming out of Nielsen's new college TV ratings sample. The truth is the top-rated network on college campuses is not the Hallmark Channel. It's Court TV. Hallmark ranks No. 2, though it indexes higher in dormitories and frat houses.

Okay, okay, we admit it. From time to time, we make stuff up. Yeah, we said it. Shocked? Well, we suppose you should be. What's this world coming to? The next thing you know a children's television network will be launching a terrorist scare to promote itself. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Anyway, now that we're laying our cards out on this fable, perhaps we should explain a few things about these so-called "real" media riffs. Occasionally, they are. But sometimes they are not. That's right, the Riff is a bit existential. Or maybe just nonsensical? One thing we are not, is serious journalism. MediaPost saves that for its genuine news outlets. Please don't confuse the two. Are you confused? Good, so are we.

This is not to say that we haven't written some serious things. We've even, on occasion, written some pretty newsy things. So if you've read something in the past that you found informative, revealing or poignant, well, we actually meant those. If you read something you found ridiculous or simply obnoxious, we did not actually mean those.

In any case, it's not as simple as saying "Real Media Riffs" is the trade commentary equivalent of "opposite day." It's far more complicated than that. Sometimes we mean things literally. Sometime we mean them figuratively. And occasionally, as in yesterday's "Nielsen 101" column, we mean them outlandishly.

Why do we do it? For the money, obviously. Seriously, we are paid gobs for writing this drivel. And on the rare occasion that we miss a column, our boss, Ken Fadner, garnishes our wages. The good news is he also pays us a hefty bonus every time we generate a post on the Riff blog. And that explains all this preposterous stuff. It's all part of an elaborate plan to line our own pockets. There's nothing that will get people posting to your blog faster than appealing to their Mr. or Ms. Know-it-all instincts.

That said, even we were amazed by some of the reactions to "Nielsen 101." And we should tell you right upfront we genuinely were not attempting to hoax anyone. Who do you think we are? Cartoon Network? We tried to make the piece silly enough that it would be so clearly false that no one could mistake it for the truth.

Apparently, we were not nearly silly enough. Either that, or we've reached the point where people in our industry figure almost anything is possible. And much as we feel guilty that people took the time to post some earnest replies on yesterday's Riff blog with their own well thought explanations for Nielsen's findings, it was also a valuable lesson in how people process information - even silly information - in this Google News Alert era of information dissemination where context is ephemeral at best.

We heard that directly from Nielsen yesterday, when "Nielsen 101" triggered a backlash from customers, some threatening to take out trade ads debunking or touting the college panel's findings. You know, you just can't make stuff like that up. Oh yeah, we guess you can.

Okay, so now that understand why we write Real Media Riffs, let us explain why we make some of it up. Actually, there are two reasons. One is we're bored out of our minds. You try writing seriously about this business for a few decades. The second reason is we've been hoping that if we keep it up long enough, people will eventually grow so bored or disgusted that they'll simply stop reading it. Then our ad sales people won't be able to sell it, and Mr. Fadner will tell us to stop writing it. We'll finally be unshackled from this albatross and never have to write another mixed metaphor again.

So now that we've explained more than you'd ever actually want to know about our motivations behind "Real Media Riffs," let's explain how to read it.

Despite what we've already disclosed, there is plenty of truth in it. Actually, there are hidden truths all over it. In fact, ever since we began penning this column back in 1986 we've been planting secret messages and hidden codes throughout. Mostly, they show up in what appears to be typographic errors. We made them look like typos to fool you, but they're really part of an ingenious mystery that we know some of the more astute readers stumbled upon and are close to unraveling soon. For those of you who haven't been tracking it, you'll have to go back to "Real Media Riffs" No. 12,379 in 1985 and work your way back through all the typos.

Now that our cover has finally been blown, we'd like to reveal the last three clues in this puzzle. They are: "a jar of pickles," "a Pentium processor," and "Laura Desmond."

See, we told you it'd be good. Well, we didn't actually tell you, but you inferred it. The next embedded Riff mystery begins with the typos in today's edition. Look closely, we assure they are there.

While you're looking for them, let's offer a few more tips for understanding our facts from fiction. Here's one. Anytime you see us refer to a "source deep inside the ratings giant," it is fiction. We have no sources inside any ratings giants, but we've gotten pretty close to rating a couple of midgets. Er, make that assessing the vertically challenged?

Okay, so now that you understand how to read "Real Media Riffs," and more importantly, how to distinguish our version of the truth from all the friction, we'd like to conduct a simple test. We'd like you to figure out which of the following statements are bogus and which are the "real" deal. Please post your responses to the Riff blog.

George W. Busch is a great president.

Nielsen is not a monopoly.

Media Rating Council Executive Director George Ivie is the "deep throat" source behind all of MediaPost's big TV ratings business scoops.

Print is not a dying medium. It has simply grown comfortably numb.

Media buyers will agree to do their 2007-08 network TV ad deals in this year's upfront based on "live" plus DVR playback ratings.

Cartoon Network is not run by the Al Quaeda.

Time Warner is planning to change its name to "Time: Warned Ya."

Frank Maggio is a naïve and indulgent multimillionaire who has no business in the TV ratings business and should not be taken seriously.

Ken Fadner is the most generous employer we've ever worked for.

We'd do this even if we weren't paid to do so.

Now that Adweek, Mediaweek and Brandweek are owned by Nielsen, Arbitron is contemplating a buyout of Advertising Age.

MediaPost has rejected a sweet, four-figure offer from Frank Maggio.

Nielsen will not royally screw Arbitron again now that the two companies are officially partnering on a joint venture to roll out Project Apollo.

Nielsen will not acquire Arbitron after sending its stock to a new 52-week low after pulling the rug out from under Apollo.

Madison Avenue is close to clearly defining a universally accepted meaning for "engagement."

Big marketers are on the verge of truly "letting go."

Google is not the Borg, though its media "relations" department is far more detached.

CBS' press department is more engaged than Google's.

Advertising Age has not lost any of its hard earned credibility by bringing a British tabloid approach to covering the ad industry.

"Real Media Riffs" is actually written by a team of accomplished journalists.

The editors of MediaPost clearly have too much time on their hands.

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Next column: Tips On How To Avoid Reading "Real Media Riffs"

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