Still Destroying Major Markets; Internet Turns 30

The Internet was more or less officially born Jan 1st 1983. Back then I was just out of college selling advertising for a major London magazine using a rotary dial phone and paper index cards. It feels like a million years ago. Back then we enjoyed creative content through, commercial soaked radio stations, dead tree products like newspapers, network TV, vinyl records or tapes and VHS all of which we paid through the nose for through commercials or fairly large stacks of dollar bills. The networks could deliver vast prime time audiences, record companies, newspapers and movie makers were rich and powerful media giants and if you wanted to find something you had to go look it up at the library. A year or so later as a wet behind the ears sales guy if I wanted to send a sales letter I dictated it to a secretary and send it by snail mail.

As we start 2013 we are looking at a radically different landscape. Mobile will probably surpass desktops in terms of users and search, music has devolved to a medieval state where the only way for minstrels to make money is to play live for a line audience and movies are headed that way too. Newspapers are barely worth the paper they are printed on, the yellow book industry is almost gone, content piracy continues to impact multiple markets and as always the web mediates these processes. In spite of the fact that Google removed over 50 million URLs from their results last year (mostly in response to appeals from RIAA) it’s results continue to be chock full of pirated content and the sites promoting “sharing” through torrenting continue to feature ads served by the major search engines and ad networks.

An interesting side effect of this slow rolling revolution is the impact of the web on advertising as a whole. For example; I recently purchased roughly 75 episodes of Big Bang Theory on iTunes to watch on long flights. Each episode costs about $1 and buying them saved me watching or zapping through roughly 15 hours of ads. I have seen believable data which puts my value as an ad viewer at about 5c per 30 second commercial. That mean that by spending $75 to own the content the network lost about $18 of advertising, a pretty good deal for the network even factoring in fees to iTunes etc. This equation of trading dollars for interruption through platforms like iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Prime will likely continue to drive the advertising world half insane in 2013. Add to that that the pervasive but confounding social media it’s clear that the Internet will continue to confuse advertisers who traditionally move at a glacial pace.

At the same time the web has obliterated music, yellow books and newspapers it has given birth to massive new markets, freed us from the sway of media giants who often don’t have our best interests at heart, facilitated real social and political change and as a bonus allows us to live pretty much commercial free if we choose to. It has put the information of a large chunk of humanity at our finger tips and allows us to be much more connected with family and friends if we choose to be. I experienced this myself just last week in London. By some oversight I didn’t have the UK added to my data roam program, so I found myself in London unable to call, search, navigate or email for as long as it took me to resolve with Verizon….about 6 hours. Those were 6 of the most uncomfortable and confounding hours I have experienced recently. After 30 years the Internet married to mobility has truly addicted many of us to the point where being without it is just about unthinkable. Hi, I’m Tim and I’m and Internataholic….Hi Tim!  Here’s to the next 30 years

The Dunblane Solution?

This post is a little off my typical beat, and I won’t attempt to link it back to search. When 9/11 hit although I lived in the US at the time I was flying to Germany, trapping me 4,000 miles from home watching on CNN and wondering why. Now in the shadow of the Newtown massacre like everyone else I’m asking how and why. I don’t have any insights, but permit me to draw a parallel from the UK. In Britain we have traditionally not been big gun owners, we have no second amendment no strong tradition of gun ownership. It used to be possible to get guns after pretty stringent checking, but until I moved to the US I (like most Brits) had never touched a gun…and didn’t really miss them.  Back in 1996 just a few months after I moved permanently to the US, a mentally ill guy who had obtained four handguns legally, walked into the Dunblane Elementary School in Scotland and murdered 16 children and one adult.

The stunned outrage then was similar to the grief, disgust and anger we have recently just experienced over the Newtown killings. What happened in the UK is what won’t happen here: A top level inquiry was held and as a result the UK passed legislation which banned the private ownership and use of Handgun. That ban is so absolute that the UK no longer has an Olympic shooting team. Bank robbers can still get hold of hand guns or sawed off shotguns, but the crazy and enraged can’t get hold of weapons to make themselves notorious with.

I’m going back to the UK after Christmas to visit family and friends. When I’m there I will (as always) be struck by how similar we are as nations. We drive the same cars, we enjoy much of the same food, music and TV, we laugh at most of the same dumb jokes and love our kids in exactly similar ways. The UK is larger than most Americans believe. The US has roughly five times the population of the UK (which is geographically about the size of Texas). Last year if the US had had the same size population as the UK it would have experienced roughly 6,000 gun fatalities from all causes. In the same year in a similar country with similar people who do similar things and love their children just as much as we in the US the total fatalities from guns in the UK was just 150. The largest subset of those 150 were suicides. The converse of that math would be that if the UK were the same size as the US there would have been 750 gun deaths not the 27,000 which happened. That is the single largest difference I can think of between our great countries….in no other ways can I come up with a difference in which either country is thirty six times larger or smaller than the other.

I realize that even given the horror of recent events there isn’t the political will in the US to do what the UK did. The second amendment and the NRA will prevent that. However, as a side thought I watched the movie Lincoln over the weekend and I had an idea. The movie brought home the death and destruction of weapons even back in the 1860’s. I wanted to suggest as a compromise that I’d actually be OK if the second amendment allowed anyone who could pass the test to own the kinds of firearms contemplated when the founders framed the Constitution. We should indeed have the right to bear black powder based front loading muskets …just a thought.