Monday, April 9, 2007

The Study of Entertainment Communication: An Innovative Degree Design

Communication, entertainment and media are increasingly evolving with new, innovative technologies and changing consumer preferences. My alma mater, the University of Southern California (USC), addresses this emergent environment and their desire to develop along with it in their most recent strategic plan. Although USC’s mission statement and core values of free inquiry, community, and informed risk-taking remain stalwart in this shifting, their plan suggests that “more flexible strategies must be developed which will enable USC to accelerate its progress under evolving external circumstances.” The plan presents four capabilities necessary for its achievement: span disciplinary and school boundaries to concentrate on problems of societal significance, link fundamental to applied research, build networks and partnerships, and increase responsiveness to learners. USC’s commitment to its enhancement is highlighted by the College Dean’s Prize, which rewards students who offer insightful suggestions on advancing the Trojan educational experience. In response, I have decided to dedicate this post to presenting my visions for USC’s communication studies and how the curriculum may develop to better serve its students and the community.

The USC Annenberg School for Communication, whose logo is seen to the right, also observes the significance in the evolution of education and prides itself on the modern degree programs it offers, “Society has been fundamentally altered by new developments in communication. USC Annenberg is at the heart of the revolution and on the cutting edge of communication technology.” USC Annenberg is listed as one of the top schools in this field according to a study performed by the National Communication Association. As a communication major, I can attest to the high quality of the courses and educational experience, particularly within the entertainment option. The degree program provides students with excellent professors and well rounded courses. Yet, where the curriculum is lacking is in practical application. The students receive vast amounts of knowledge but have little practice applying it. What the program needs is a bridge between education and the working world, an applied preparation for what follows graduation. I suggest that the course obligations are condensed to seven semesters and that the eighth consists of an internship requirement and capstone course.

In the competitive business of entertainment, internships are vital for many entry level positions. So many people want to break into the industry that businesses easily find “interns” willing to do the work for free. Why pay someone with no experience when they could get someone else at no cost? Internships are nearly expected of graduates; however, juggling a 20 hour unpaid week simultaneously with course work and sometimes even side jobs can greatly disturb a student’s educational experience. Most recent graduates need paying jobs and do not have the time to be a volunteer intern. By having a semester dedicated to the internship, the student can better concentrate on all aspects of the degree and occupation. Annenberg would aide the seniors in applying to a variety of internships relative to their career choice. USC is a perfect location for this type of program being in the heart of the entertainment industry and a booming metropolis. By reaching out to these businesses and creating a dialogue with the corporate world, USC is establishing itself and its students as valuable commodities.

Along with the internship, the students would enroll in a once a week capstone course that is specific to their prospective profession. A communication degree is extremely broad and feeds into several different careers as indicated by USC Annenberg’s four communication options: Media, Law and Politics; Organizational and Interpersonal Communication; Communication and Culture; and Entertainment, Communication, and Society. The ability to focus their studies to a final course will prove beneficial. With an entertainment option, students might become talent agents, managers, casting directors, producers, or work in advertising, promotions, public relations, radio and television. That is just a partial list. The capstone course would be a small class of four to twelve students that are all looking to enter the same profession. A class of future talent agents may learn how to negotiate contracts, scout and promote actors and do mock deals with their classmates. This course lets them share their experiences from the internships with other students and creates a close knit group who might eventually help each other out in the “real” world. It offers a tremendous opportunity for networking and building solid working relationships, while allowing students to see their classmates in a more professional light.

This curriculum further establishes the university’s dedication to the Trojan Family and their hope to aide their graduates into the professional world. Although a shift such as this will definitely require significant changes, the result will greatly benefit the university and its students. A successful unique program can put the university on the map as a break through institution and give the alumnae a smooth transition from school to a successful career. As expectations for college graduates increase and the industry of communication and entertainment becoming ever more competitive, a practical preparation will give USC students a leg up on their competitors. This would be a big change for the communication school, but I believe if they make the move, other universities and programs will follow.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Ron Howard: My Nomination for an Honorary Degree

My alma mater annually grants distinguished individuals with what is described as the “highest award that the University of Southern California confers,” an honorary degree. Presented at the commencement ceremony, the doctorate is meant to recognize those who have shown exceptional achievement in “scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities,” alumni and others who have made extraordinary contributions to the university and/or their communities, those who have displayed outstanding philanthropy and “individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.” With commencement just around the corner, I have decided to put forth my nomination for this mark of distinction to a man who has shown exceptional accomplishment in several elements of entertainment. I would for these reasons, like to nominate USC alumnus Ron Howard for an honorary doctoral degree in fine arts.

Howard has displayed incredible abilities in three distinct aspects of entertainment: directing, acting, and producing. An actor since childhood, Howard is best known for his roles in the film American Graffiti and on the hit television series Happy Days, for which he was honored with a Golden Globe Nomination. After attending USC’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts, Howard used his acting knowledge to pursue his passion in a successful directorial career. In 2001, he received Academy Awards for both Best Director and Best Picture with the film A Beautiful Mind (the photo to the left shows him at the Oscars with long time collaborative partner, Brian Grazer). Actor Russell Crowe spoke of Howard, "It's great to work with a guy who understands the grave stones- the resonance of silence....He's a really great filmmaker." In addition to directing numerous successful projects, Howard has also produced many, including The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man and even the Emmy Award winning series Arrested Development. Although his complete list of accomplishments goes on, as displayed by the Internet Movie Database, Howard’s worthiness of this award reaches far beyond his well rounded list of credits. Particularly relevant is his connection and contribution to the University of Southern California’s film school.

Tucked in USC’s Robert Zemeckis Center for the Digital Arts is the Ron Howard Screening Room, named in his honor. Howard makes frequent appearances at the school as a guest lecturer and offers round table discussions for the students (he is seen to the right with USC’s Division of Film & Television Production Chair Michael Taylor), while proving to be an incredible resource with the ability to address almost every facet of the industry. In 2002, Howard spoke to USC film school graduates about their industry of choice: “I can’t predict the course or outcome of any of your careers, but I can do this. I can predict some particular emotions that I know you’ll feel.” Just last month, Howard returned to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. James Tella’s article about the evening reads, “Howard told the audience that his discovery of the real power of ideas and analysis of stories stemmed from his time at USC, saying that his classroom experience helped him understand the medium as an art form.” By donating his time to the University, Howard is giving back to the community that aided in his success. This is one of the admirable qualities desired for an honorary degree recipient.

The lecture described above was an evening on collaborative filmaking. Through a series of anecdotes, Howard emphasized teamwork, a skill necessary to not only filmmaking but nearly every field of endeavor. Those awarded an honorary degree speak to graduates at commencement. If Ron Howard were chosen, collaboration would be the emphasis of his speech. In an interview with the Academy of Achievement, Howard again touched upon the important quality, "I think the healthiest king of balance is one where you have the confidence to continue to engage... [but] try to maintain the humility to listen to those who speak up and say, 'I think you're making a mistake.'" Howard engages his audience, with a playful boyish demeanor, but has substance to his material. Russell Crowe said, "I think it's funny that he has the whole world fooled that he's just a simple, easy going guy. Where that's part of his nature, it's a very inefficient definition of Ron Howard. He's a very deep thinker." Howard’s emphasis on education and his ability to bring life lessons from his successful career will surely prove beneficial and intriguing to graduates and those attending commencement.

President emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, James Freedman, emphasized the importance of carefully selecting those on whom this prestigious award is conferred, “In bestowing an honorary degree [of which there is a long tradition in American higher education], a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” In his opinion the degree should emphasize sublime achievement and should not be used for the purpose of flattering “generous donors and prospective benefactors” or to award “mere celebrities—who are often famous principally for being famous.” Although Howard may be considered a celebrity, as well as a generous USC donor, his achievements reach far beyond these characteristics. He has realized tremendous accomplishments in the field of fine arts, and shared his success with the university and its students. Ron Howard seems an obvious choice for this esteemed honor.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happiness in Hollywood: A Personal Perspective

Working in a field plagued with inconsistent jobs, long hours and constant rejection is not the life most people would choose. In entertainment, becoming famous or even financially successful is extremely rare, but still countless individuals join the industry every day. As with any competitive business, the majority of one’s profession is spent climbing the ladder, slipping here and there, maybe getting back on and seldom making it to the top. Life in this industry can be draining and as someone who desires a career in film and television, I have regularly asked myself if I could lead a joyful life in a constant clamber. Inspired by This I Believe, a media project that is "engaging millions of people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives," I will present my philosophy on living, learning and happiness in such a tumultuous industry. This personal post meant to help readers understand the focus of my blog.

Individuals often join entertainment with the motive of award shows, parties, fame and riches. Although these are elements of the industry, very few get to revel in them. The typical actor spends the days driving in traffic from audition to audition, paying for classes and headshots (like my commercial one shown to the left), looking for agents and rarely making money. In fact, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average member of the Screen Actor’s Guild makes less than $5000 per year. Is this the way someone wants to live? American author Annie Dillard once said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I believe that the key to enjoying life is enjoying our days and in the case of an actor, enjoying the climb. If I did not love the process, I could never be happy as an actress. I look at auditions as opportunities to create, to play. Every screen test is a performance; every class is a chance to invent. A passion for the craft is what drives me. If acting were a chore, the joy would be lost.

Actors tend to have an innate interest in the human condition, a desire for a new perspective. Natalie Portman, seen to the right, is an actress that I greatly admire. She has incredible intelligence and versatility that is brought to nearly every character she portrays. Portman wisely stated, "I'm going to college. I don't care if it ruins my career. I'd rather be smart than a movie star." I see education as vital to understanding human behavior, the core of acting. I believe life is a constant motion that will lead me where I am meant to be. The key is to go in the direction I want to go, but let life take its course. For many, entertainment is a gateway, starting there then moving to an entirely new field. Some, like casting director Lonnie Hamerman, start with acting only to discover a love for a related career. Others just continue the climb. Its important to stay open change. As author Anais Nin describes it, “Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” In this field, artists continue to grow and learn with each project and each battle that they face. When I decided that I wanted to enter this field, I tried to convince myself that there were more lucrative, stable professions that I should pursue. However my mother wisely advised, “You at least have to try, or you’ll always regret it.” I believe everyone should start at their passion and see where it leads them. This prevents wondering what might have happened and creates contentment in the chosen path.

As people make their way through this grueling business (and many eventually abandon it), there are always others who seem miles ahead. Being content with my stage in the journey is a particular challenge, letting jealousy and competition affect my enjoyment in the profession. But I have found that celebrating each triumph in my personal climb helps combat these evils and no matter how small the victory, knowing that I am moving forward while growing and learning creates a self-worth and a positive perspective. By embracing these accomplishments instead of belittling them in comparison to others, my days and outlook are brighter. In an industry overflowing with obstacles and hardships, learning to truly enjoy the process is the best way to enjoy the life.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Brand Beckham: Scheduled to Hit the U.S. in Summer 2007

Last week NBC announced that Victoria Beckham, former Spice Girl and wife to famous “footballer” David Beckham, will be starring in her own reality show coming this summer (the couple can be seen in this photo to the right). The television program will highlight her move from London to Los Angeles in six half-hour episodes, reported Michael Janofsky in Bloomberg. Producing the show is 19 Entertainment, a company run by American Idol creator and Beckham family manager Simon Fuller. Fuller is also a key negotiator in David’s $250 million deal with the Galaxy, Los Angeles’ Major League Soccer team. David is anticipated to start playing this July, conveniently close to Victoria’s expected reality television premier. “Brand Beckham,” as the pair is called in London, can arguably be considered Britain’s most watched celebrity couple, but are lesser known in the U.S. Victoria’s show offers the perfect introduction, not to mention being a tremendous marketing move for selling both the duo and Major League Soccer (MLS) in the states.

After a successful music career as “Posh Spice” in the 1990’s group The Spice Girls, Victoria is now focusing on clothing design, says People Magazine. Much of the star's show is expected to emphasize her break into the American fashion industry. The program will offer enormous publicity for Victoria's book released last October, That Extra Half an Inch: Hair, Heels and Everything in Between, as well as her fashion line DVB Style, which currently carries sunglasses, and perfume. March 1st, only a day after NBC’s announcement of the celebrity's show, DVB revealed that Victoria will be selling her own line of denim with pieces to hit stores in June 2007 and the entire collection to drop in September. Aaron O. Patrick quotes In Touch Magazine editor Michelle Lee in his Wall Street Journal article: “I imagine our coverage of Posh is definitely going to increases....She's maybe in once a month or every six weeks now. She's a very hot topic when it comes to her body.” Victoria, who is often criticized for being too skinny, is seen here with good friend Katie Holmes. Star power is a tremendous asset in the world of fashion, so entering the States with a bang is an incredibly smart decision. Six episodes all about Victoria will surely leave people wanting more, making the Beckhams the center of attention.

“Posh and Becks” are not the only ones benefiting from their star-studded entrance. The more attention they get, the more publicity there is for Major League Soccer. Some have said that the Galaxy paid too much money for Beckham, but what is the price of single handedly saving a sport? This is what MLS is hoping Beckham will do. Though it is the number one game in many parts of the world, soccer falls short in U.S. popularity; the website USA travel does not even mention it in their sports section. MLS is hoping Beckham will bring the game mainstream. He is the most known footballer for non-soccer enthusiasts in the States due to his celebrity marriage and the 2002 film Bend it Like Beckham (David is shown to the right in his Real Madrid uniform, with oldest son Brooklyn). People already interested in the sport will be drawn to witness the famous player in action, while others will be intrigued to see what the fuss is about, not to mention get a glimpse of Posh’s handsome husband.

Even before last week’s announcement of their reality television show, Beckham’s arrival has proven advantageous to MLS, says Grahame L. Jones of the Los Angeles Times. Since the news of his future arrival, season ticket sales for all MLS teams have spiked, not just the LA Galaxy, and for the first time in league history all soccer games will be televised, the majority of them nationally. The schedule has been set to make the most of the league's investment, ensuring nearly all the teams host the Galaxy at least once. MLS Commissioner Don Garber says in Patrick’s article “Having David play in the most commercially robust market in the world clearly is going to present a real opportunity to generate significant income.” The more America sees Beckham’s face, the more attention the league will receive. David has sponsorship deals with Adidas and Gillette and both are expected to use him in more U.S. advertisements. Having Beckham play for the Galaxy is like a celebrity endorsement. Paige Montgomery, of Paige Denim told USC students that having a star wear a pair of her jeans is worth millions of dollars in advertising. So perhaps having David play is like $250 million worth of promotion for Major League Soccer.

Coming this summer with a reality television show, endorsements, new fashion line and touring soccer star, the new kids on the block are set to put their stamp on the States. The British superpower known as “Brand Beckham” is entering an entirely new market, but with these incredible assets and friends like TomKat, one can expect that the pair will do just fine.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Spears and Seidlin: Is Any Publicity Good Publicity?

There’s an old saying that goes, “Any publicity is good publicity.” This theory of maximum exposure has worked well for some. Paris Hilton can credit her constant tabloid presence for much of her notoriety. It was the leak of her sex tape that brought many curious viewers to the first season of The Simple Life. Even Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev said any publicity is better than nothing when questioned of Sacha Cohen’s Borat, which “portrays Kazakhstan as a country where people drink horse urine and whose national pastimes include incest and shooting dogs,” said Bloomberg in Business Report. This week I decided to see what the blogosphere was buzzing about. Two stories managed to get almost as much publicity as the Oscars: Judge Larry and shaven Britney Spears, as seen in the photo to the right. Both are rather bizarre spectacles. Find my comment on a blog concerning Judge Larry Seidlin’s strange behavior here, or read my thoughts below. A clip of his famous tears can be found at the bottom of this post. I also shared opinions on Britney Spears in response to the blog Celebrity Mound and how this attention may hinder her custody battle. Is this publicity “good” publicity?

Many people share in your distaste for Judge Larry Seidlin’s erratic behavior. Blogs and news articles joked he was a possible threat to “Days of Our Lives,” and called him ringmaster to a circus, even “Judge Crybaby.” Yet, coverage of that Florida courtroom made ratings soar. Judge Larry’s strange actions became center of attention in the media. Most of America was disgusted, but they were nonetheless enthralled. Despite the hundreds of criticisms, and universal mockery of this man, he will still most likely get his television show. Viewers watch shows like Dr. Phil and Judge Judy and hate the hosts but love the drama. As demonstrated last week, Seidlin has a flair for the dramatic. Embarrassment by those in his field makes no difference; his “circus” honored him widespread publicity. If Judge Larry is in fact looking to start his own show, this hype is exactly what he needed.

In the case of Britney Spears I cannot see how this publicity would be good for anyone but her ex-husband. Unforgiving tabloids paint Spears’ volatile behavior as bizarre and unstable. A favorite photo they use is one where her hair is half shaved and a desperate insanity is conveyed in her eyes. Spears and ex-husband Kevin Federline are in the midst of a custody battle over their two sons. This widespread, unflattering publicity for Spears may make her fight increasingly difficult. For Federline it does just the opposite. This is the perfect opportunity to use her negative attention for his benefit. “Kevin continues to be a very focused father with his children with hands-on management.” Kevin was sympathetic enough to postpone the court date and also brought his sons to visit their mother in rehab. It is hard to say whether Federline’s sincerity is genuine. But sincere or not, he is looking like the better parent.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Merger of XM and Sirius: Necessary to Survive or No Competition?

Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio announced on Monday that they are planning to merge. Chairman of XM Gary Parsons is shown here with Mel Karmazin, CEO of Sirius. These two companies are America’s only services licensed to provide satellite radio. As a result, this amalgamation has raised significant antitrust concerns. In order for this merger to continue the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department must be convinced that there is sufficient competition for both pricing fairness and innovation incentive. This is addressed in Peter Kaplan’s Reuters article. Although Sirius and XM suggest that terrestrial HD Radio and other new technologies may act as competition, both Sirius and XM offer a product unique enough to compete on its own. Their union would only stunt the growth of satellite radio.

CNET boasts the special qualities of satellite radio: it is commercial and static free, uncensored and provides artist/title read outs, weather and traffic for big cities, video and internet radio. Today, XM and Sirius are the only operators that widely deliver these services. However, the relatively unknown, but growing industry of terrestrial HD radio provides several of these amenities for free. Sirius and XM cited this audio device as reasonable competition in Kaplan’s article. HD broadcasting allows stations to supply music digitally, increasing quality and making artist/title readouts possible. Digital terrestrial radio comes from stations already known to listeners and offers more specialized traffic and weather than satellite. Unlike Sirius and XM, HD has commercials, but it offers the allure of a nonexistent price tag. These are all qualities that make HD radio a significant technology, but do they make it a competitor?

Similar to why people buy cable, satellite radio must have the programming listeners are willing to pay extra for. This merger will obviously create a wider programming pool: more music, more news and both Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern. However, is this necessary to keep satellite radio alive? XM and Sirius’s content may be appealing enough as it is. XM radio boasted 8 million subscribers last year and Sirius had 6.3 million, according to Ashok Bindra’s report of In-Stat Worldwide Research. This is an increase of 5 million subscribers to each provider since CNET’s early 2005 data, a significant jump that is only expected to continue growing. Bindra states, “The In-Stat report titled ‘More Consumers to Tune Into Digital Radio in 2007’ indicates that this growth [of satellite and digital radio markets] will come from increased awareness of terrestrial HD radio and the continued popularity of satellite radio in the United States.” This study, conducted before XM and Sirius’s announcement, projects that satellite and HD radio will both continue substantial growth. Though HD may seem like a competitor, offering many of the same services for free, the two are different enough to coexist. Listeners can have both; satellite for specialized programs, like specific sporting events or talk shows commercial free and HD for local traffic, news, and weather. Satellite might be considered the “cable” of radio and HD the broadcasting networks. Now imagine if America had only one cable provider.

As indicated in Bindra’s article, Satellite and HD are the future of radio broadcast with an expected 25 million digital receiver shipments in 2010. In order for satellite radio to develop as predicted, there must be several service suppliers in the field. At this moment there are only two and by them combining they are creating a force with which emerging providers will have difficulty competing. Antitrust lawyer Stephen Axinn states in Reuters, "The fact that somebody invented satellite radio and charges for it, and a million people own it, is a strong indication that it's a different market than something that is free…It looks to me like a deal that can't happen." If this agreement were to continue, they would be limiting the growth of satellite radio to the development of this single company. What is going to persuade them to continue researching and improving? There will be no competitors attempting to out do them or other services keeping the price down. Although digital terrestrial radio will compete, realistically it could just be considered a better version of what there is now. Better quality and digital readouts will not steal numerous people away from satellite radio; these services are just a fraction of its appeal. The graph to the upper right, from Jacobs Media, shows that at least three of the top four reasons why Sirius clients subscribe are qualities that will still be exclusive to satellite radio even after HD radio emerges. With XM and Sirius in a unique market, this combination shows definite signs of a monopoly that should be prevented.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Media Violence: The Ever Present Controversy

Violence in the media is constantly at the center of public debate. Psychologists, educators, and television executives are incessantly in dialogue regarding the subject which has numerous research studies outlining its effects. This week, I decided to dive into the blogosphere to see what other online writers had to say on the topic. One entry discussed the recent New Yorker article regarding torturing depicted in the television drama 24 and how it is affecting the mentality of troops in Iraq. To the left is a production still from a torture scene in ABC’s hit series Lost, which was also criticized. Military officials and human rights activists went to executives of 24, asking that they portray torture more realistically, saying it is rarely successful and can take weeks or months to complete. You can read my thoughts below, or visit this link to view the whole blog and my comments. Another interesting blog summarized detailed research regarding media violence and its effects on children. My comments on this post can be found here along with the blog or directly after my thoughts on 24 below.

Television violence is often a subject of concern, but the notion of one hour dramas like Lost or 24 “trumping military training” (as stated in the New Yorker article) is ridiculous. Imagine a highly educated doctor throwing out all medical knowledge in order to do an operation Grey’s Anatomy style. These programs may inspire and galvanize viewers, but it is those committing the torturous crimes that are responsible for their actions. A lack of knowledge regarding reality reveals a flaw in military training, not a flaw in primetime television. These troops ought to be educated enough on torture tactics to realize that shows like 24 and Lost are not accurately depicting the situations. Television programs often bend the truth for viewing pleasure; do they seriously expect Jack Bauer to spend seven full seasons trying to get information out of one guy? It would seem that military officials are using 24 as a scapegoat for immoral procedures revealed in Iraq, while human rights activists jumped at an opportunity to criticize the controversial show.

This blog raises the ever present question of media responsibility in censoring violent content. Germany took one route with its recent legislation hoping to outlaw overly aggressive video games entirely, while some countries prefer a more hands-off approach. With the extensive research conducted on the subject, to ignore the affects of this content on children would be both naive and careless. Yet still, the FCC cannot be expected to ban violence on television completely. The obligation lies once again with good parenting. Guardians are accountable for regulating a child’s media exposure, but how much do they know about the effects of television violence? Perhaps this is where media responsibility comes into play, in educating the public on these harms. Research like this should be more actively publicized. Harmful effects should be outlined in a warning before violent programming, something akin to the Surgeon General’s words on cigarettes. More needs to be done, more than just a TV14 in the corner, but without crossing into censorship.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Celebrity Obsession: How Much for a Pair of Paris' Panties?

American society feeds on the lives of the famous. Checkout lines at every grocery store are plastered with popular magazines dedicated to star sightings and celebrity gossip, like Us Weekly shown below. Even television shows like Entertainment Weekly and Extra have gained success by prying into the private lives of public icons. Although society has always had a degree of celebrity worship, Cosmos Magazine explains that the internet boom has made it more “prevalent and intense,” in not just the U.S., but the entire Western world. Dr. Stuart Fischoff, spokesman for the American Psychological Association, explained in a WebMD Article that today, celebrity worship is bigger than ever, "You have a confluence of forces coming together in technology and the media to make it happen and it's worldwide and it's multiplying like lice." The public is continuing to demand juicy stories and the prices that publications are willing to pay for them are skyrocketing. Yet, how far is too far when infiltrating the personal life of a star? Paying $4 million for baby Shiloh’s photos is one thing; selling Paris Hilton’s dirty linens, diaries and medical information for public display is another. Celebrity obsession has fueled a business that profits by disregarding the privacy and feelings of human beings. It has crossed the line to become another ethical defect in our society.

Paris Hilton is the celebrity that the American public loves to expose: from her infamous sex tape in 2004, to the personal photos and phone numbers hacked from her T-Mobile Sidekick a year later. Her party girl antics, heiress status and famous friends make Paris an ideal media target. She has even learned how to manipulate her mishaps to feed her fame and fortune. In fact, Hilton released her sex video, 1 Night in Paris (the cover seen to the right) afte
r the film was leaked over the net. Fans and paparazzi continue to push the envelope when delving into Hilton’s personal life and just last week this intrusion was brought to an entirely new level. Hilton is suing, a subscription based website flaunting Paris’ personal belongings. David Hans Schmidt, known as “The Sultan of Sleaze” because of his time in the porn industry, and entrepreneur Bardia Persia acquired the possessions indirectly, which include“18 personal diaries, sex tapes, topless photos, love notes, medical records and friends' phone numbers scribbled on paper napkins,” says Susan Donaldson James of ABC News. They paid $10 million for the items after Paris failed to pay a $208 fee at a storage locker when she was between mansions. For website owners to make millions of dollars by revealing another human’s most intimate information is appalling. Although Hilton’s behavior often invites public voyeurism, there is a difference between photographers to taking scandalous pictures of her out on the town and purloining her possessions from behind lock and key. Making a business out of embarrassing and violating well-known people may be lucrative but is certainly not ethical. “Celebrity worship is big business,” psychologist James Houran explained, “but from a social standpoint, it’s not healthy.” Many big names exploit this obsession, making great money appearing on billboards and television advertisements, but there is a darker and more intrusive side to the growing phenomenon.

Superstar fixation is not just an Amer
ican issue either. Terence Blackler brought up one of the most famous paparazzi permeations in Britain’s The Independent: “From the moment when photographers swarmed over the dying Princess Diana to get shots which magazines would pay for and publish, ideas of privacy and decency changed for ever.” The heartbreaking incident highlighted the unrelenting nature of the paparazzi, but the business of celebrity fascination continued. To the left is a photograph of Diana being pursued by the paparazzi. December 2006, nine years after the tragic accident, Jean Francois Musa, owner of Etoile Limousines in Paris, announced that he would be selling the wrecked limousine in which Princess Diana was killed for £1 million. The British news source Daily Mail expressed concern for Diana’s children, “The attempt by someone to make a huge profit out of the tragedy is set to cause further heartache to Princes' William and Harry.” Princess Diana was a world icon. Celebrity worship gave her the ability to do many charitable acts but also holds great responsibility for her death. The desire to obtain huge earnings from the event and the fact that someone is willing to pay so much for the tragic artifacts, especially considering circumstances surrounding her passing, is just another example of flaws in society’s morality.

Celebrity worship is a vicious cycle; the media fuels the public’s fascination, while the public creates demand for the m
edia. With the recent growth in the internet and technological communication, the obsession seems to have spun out of control. Blackler addresses these concerns, “No event is too intimate, distressing or revolting to be a nice little earner indeed, the nastier it is, the bigger the pay-off is likely to be.” Star mania has grown so that the most violating material is the most profitable. Scandal, heartache, torture, disease and embarrassment have become a treat. A line must be drawn in respect for humans and their right to privacy; people should not be rewarded for putting another’s personal life on display. Sometimes the public forgets that celebrities are real people with real feelings and should be given the respect that human beings deserve.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Responding to DVR: The Next Phase for Broadcast Television

Advertisement supported broadcasting was introduced in the early 1920s with AT&T’s “toll broadcasting” for radio. It was the solution the industry had been looking for, offering the ability to support the new enterprise while still providing programming free to the public. Today, television broadcasting networks, such as ABC and CBS, are still supported by advertisements. So when TiVo’s digital video recorder (DVR), as shown to the right, was introduced at the turn of the 21st century, a panic struck the television industry. The ability to fast forward through commercials was seen as a threat to the infrastructure of network television. Today, the number of DVR users continues to expand, with an expected 65 million by 2010 according to Frank Ahrens' Washington Post article. As a result, advertisers and networks are becoming creative in adapting to the new technology. Though DVR was once considered a threat, changing technologies and new advertising solutions may actually prove more beneficial for all parties involved: the advertisers, the networks and their viewers.

Nielsen Media Research presented promising research results for network television in August 2006, according to Ahrens. After its first year of including DVR users in its extensive research, Nielsen Media Research found that 77 percent of shows recorded on DVR were network programs. Even more promising, Millward Brown marketing researchers found that 43 percent of DVR owners recalled specific brands from commercials they had seen, while only 42 percent of non-DVR owners could recall the brands. Normal commercial breaks are not as effective as advertisers may think. Viewers often go to the bathroom or tune the commercials out. It is believed that DVR owners may actually be paying more attention to commercials while fast forwarding than they otherwise would because they do not wish to miss their program.

Advertisers have begun using this to their advantage. Companies, such as Honda, have created five second commercial spots that air at the end of a commercial break, according to Laura Petrecca’s USA Today article. Marketers are trying to take advantage of many digital video recorders, such as TiVo, that rewind a few seconds after the viewer stops fast forwarding. Another creative solution, introduced in Ahrens’ article, is what advertisers are calling “logo bursts.” Advertisers are making commercials that keep the company logo up much longer so that it will still be apparent in fast forward and are also attempting to make more visually appealing commercials.

However, the new concept introduced by ABC last April seems most revolutionary for television. The network started streaming their most popular television shows for free online with fast forward proof commercial spots. This new idea offers the same benefits as DVR, allowing viewers to watch at their leisure and catch episodes of several different shows, all accessible through the World Wide Web. This new technology also opens the network up to a large amount of new viewers (people without televisions, cable and/or DVR) and seems to have a future with the new tech-savvy, on-the-go, iPod generation. After ABC’s trial stage last spring, the other major broadcasting networks followed suit in fall of 2006. According to David Goetzl’s MediaPost Publications’ article, both ABC and NBC sites are averaging almost 10 million unique viewers a month and this number is expected to continue growing.

ABC’s website is leading in online viewers according to Goetzl, with such popular shows as “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.” Each episode is played through ABC’s specific media player, with the sponsoring company’s logo present at all times. An example of this can be seen with Allstate sponsoring an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” in the picture above left. The sponsoring company has three 30 second spots, sometimes the same, sometimes different, that play during the program. Unlike DVR, the commercials cannot be fast forwarded, and unlike normal commercial breaks, 30 seconds is not necessarily long enough to go to the bathroom. Viewers may be more likely to actually sit through it. Many of the commercials also offer interactive spots, where the viewer can click on links to seek additional information on the product. Allstate’s commercial spot shown to the right offers a link to their website. Online television obviously offers significant benefits to the advertisers as well.

The DVR scare forced broadcasting networks to think outside the box and seems to have issued in a new generation of television, one where the viewer is in control. Online streaming of popular television shows is the perfect marriage between advertisers and consumers, while still opening up the industry to thousands of possibilities. Television will continue to change and improve with time and instead of fighting new technology, the industry is wise to embrace and manipulate it to their advantage.