Archive for August, 2009
Digital out-of-home (DOOH) media insiders talk about Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy
The digital signage blog Sixteen: Nine generated a little debate over captive-audience media and we’re hoping it will continue. Lyle Bunn, a widely-known digital signage consultant, says the concerns raised in our book on captive-audience media, Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy, are the same old types of concern that are raised in the face of any new technology. He mentioned computerized record-keeping, ATMs, and magnetic stripes, among others.
Without a doubt Bunn, who is referenced in the book (he authored a white paper that the book mentions) is correct. It is in fact the case that for every technological advance there’s a push-back by some people. And so Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy would fit into that category, but here’s the distinction: the book doesn’t take the position of a Luddite and reject captive-audience media; rather, it suggests how to apply the media in such a way that everyone can be happy with it, supporters and critics alike.
Bunn himself goes on to say that those on the cutting-edge of technology have always benefited from critics’ point of view because critics expose flaws with early execution. As he says about the book, “Thanks for the reminder… your points, vehemently made, which have been considered in every single project of this kind, will continue to help improve the process.”
That’s exactly what we hoped to accomplish when we set out to do the book, so we’re appreciative of Bunn’s comment.
Another commenter does a great job countering reactionary, uninformed comments about the book’s purpose. “It’s unwise to think one grasps the contents of a book without having read it. This book does not ‘rail against digital signage, etc.,’ but elucidates “the growing concern over our decreasing autonomy in choosing which media we consume willingly and that which is forced on us involuntarily.”
That is exactly the intent of the book. The commenter’s point is spot on.
You would in fact hope people would reserve judgment until they’ve actually read the book, because things are never as simple as they seem at first.
What’s encouraging, though, is that each of the industry supporters acknowledge, in at least a limited way, the validity of people’s concerns over captive-audience media.
Haynes, the author of the original blog post, says the book exposes what can happen when the content on these captive-audience platforms is bad. “There is a real message in here about content and strategy. One of the reasons people . . . don’t like some of these networks is that they offer no value in terms of the programming, and that programming is out of context with the environment or setting. The now-dead screens on commuter trains in my city offered ads and old TV news, and absolutely nothing about the basics, like which stop we were approaching or service disruptions. That really was just visual noise, and I can fully understand how people could grow to dislike those things.”
We would actually disagree with that point. Although good content is always better than bad content, the problem with out-of-home TV platforms is entirely separate from the quality of the content; the problem begins and ends with the fact that the content is dumped on people without giving them a chance to decide whether they want to be bothered by any content at all. The book talks about this issue at length. Matters of taste are accidental. One person’s good content is another person’s bad content. Content is irrelevant. It’s all about who decides when and where we consume content that everyone acknowledges is hard to ignore.
But the best comment of all, in our view, is the one by a reader of Haynes’ blog who says of industry people, ” You guys are too close to it. Some of what Freedman says is quite true. Audio [is] far more intrusive than video but on ANY level, I bet we’ll see sharply higher levels of resentment/anger over the next decade.”
That’s it in a nutshell.
In what we hope is the start of a far-reaching discussion on audience captivity within the media industry, Dave Haynes of Sixteen: Nine, a blog for digital signage professionals, has written a post about Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy, our book on captive-audience media. In doing so, he’s handing executives in the industry an opportunity to talk about the topic.
Right off the bat two people commented, and what’s admirable about the comments thus far is their fair-mindedness. Although there’s some dismissiveness in one of the comments, the other commenter went so far as to say, “You guys are too close to it. Some of what Freedman says is quite true. Audio [is] far more intrusive than video but on ANY level, I bet we’ll see sharply higher levels of resentment/anger over the next decade.”
That is an admirable position, not because the commenter is supporting the view of the book. He’s not. But it shows an openness to seeing the issue of audience captivity from a critic’s point. Media executive are too close to it. By all appearances they seem too caught up in the whiz-bang, isn’t-this-neat character of their cutting-edge technology without stepping back to see what impact this technology has on people.
No one would argue that having super-sharp, high-definition images and audio flashing eye-catching content to consumers on a street corner or in a bus is pretty neat. And in theory, you would think that flashy, engaging content would be an improvement to the drab ordinariness of a bus interior. But what often gets lost in the equation is the human element. The bus interior might be drab and ordinary, but by imposing hard-to-ignore content on people, you’re putting a roadblock between riders and their interior life, their ability to meander around in their thoughts as they will. Study after study shows people become stressed when noise—audio as well as visual noise—is imposed on them.
Media exectives and other industry supporters always have the same rejoinder to this argument: just ignore it. Tune it out. But audio-video media are compelling precisely because they can’t be tuned out easily. These media are not at all like print media, which people either decide to pay attention to or not. They make the choice.
Take this very blog post that you’re reading right now. You can read this post or dismiss it or ignore it. It’s your choice. But if I were to take the exact same content of this post and put it in an audio message that played outside your bedroom window at night, then the entire ball game changes, The different types of media are not at all the same.
It’s clear media executives and advertisers are transitioning from print content and ads to audio-video content and ads precisely because people can’t tune out the content, so to dismiss people’s concerns about the affect of captive-audience media is to fall into a tautological trap.
It’s heartening to see people in the digital signage industry taking a reasoned view of what we’re trying to say in Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy.
If a person is a “meat avoider,” do you try to entrap this person and force-feed the person meat? Not a way to make this person your friend, I would think. And if you’re in the meat business, that’s certainly no way to win this person as a customer.
It’s a bit baffling, then, why a digital sign company would think it’s a good thing that tapping TVs in bars is a way to reach what Arbitron calls “TV ad avoiders.”
The paper from Arbitron, the audience-counting company, says a third of bar patrons take steps to block ads from their TVs and about three-quarters take steps to block ads from the Internet.
Arbitron also says this same demographic is a big user of technology that enables them to consume music and other media in ways that bypass traditional, commercial-based delivery mechanisms.
The Arbitron paper, called “New study of bar-based media shows that out-of-home media can be effective in reaching TV ad avoiders,” concludes that TVs in bars enables advertisers to reach the people who’ve been taking all these steps to avoid them.
Um, why does this not sound like a good business strategy to me?
If I’ve been trying to get my significant other to read my 259-line epic poem, which I swear is better than the last 259-line epic poem I wrote, and she keeps refusing, why do I think capturing her and forcing her to read it is a good idea? Like she’s going to be inclinded to give my poem an admiring read all of a sudden?
Luckily, I’m not a poet so I don’t have to worry about that but if I were an advertiser, pushing my ad onto someone who is trying to organize his life specifically to avoid ads isn’t a good way to make that person look on my ad with favor. in fact, my effort could very well backfire. Think of efforts of movie-goers to boycott companies that run commercials during the movie pre-roll. Or think of the parents who’ve fought Channel One and BusRadio, the two compulsory-media stations (the first TV, the second radio) that target school kids. Somehow consumers are going to look favorably on the advertisers these two captive-audience companies rely on for revenue?
If people are trying to avoid ads, sneaking up on them when they’re in an environment to do something besides consume media (in a bar to drink beer, for example) and hitting them with ads is not a good business strategy, in my book. So, if I were an out-of-home media company, I wouldn’t be thinking about making audience captivity part of my playbook.
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Since launching this blog about four months ago, on April 19, there have been 9,701 visitors, or an average of 80 visits a day. We would call that a success, and we’re interpreting that to mean there’s considerable interest in the topic of captive-audience media.
The most visited post by far is On noise, a judge who gets it, from July 12, that looks at the justice meted out by a judge who threw the book at rude renters who did more than thumb their noses at neighbors who asked them repeatedly to turn down the music; they tried to vandalize their house, with some success. That post attracted almost 2,650 views and generated comment on far-flung sites, some of which I reproduce in another post.
The most clicked-on link so far in any of the posts goes to a database of malicious ads from car stereo manufacturers that’s maintained by Noise Free America. That this link is the most clicked-on is not surprising, because those stereo ads are, to put it mildly, unbelievable. Their common theme is that upsetting people with the loud noise of boom cars is a laugh, and the more upset people get, the bigger the laugh it is. The ads are the definition of incivility and Noise Free America deserves credit for assembling them in one place.
In our book, boom cars and rude neighbors who refuse to turn down the volume of their media, whether music from a stereo or chatter from a TV, are forms of captive-audience media because boomers and rude neighbors force their media onto others. Although they don’t try to monetize their captive audience the way commercial media companies do (ads on bus TV, for example), they commandeer common space for a private aim.
Here’s a rundown of the top 10 posts and the top five clicked links on this blog since its mid-April launch:
1. On noise, a judge who gets it, 2,646 views
2. Boom cars: the constitutionality of nose thumbing, 1,593 views
3. Boom cars and ATVs: cut from the same cloth, 157 views
4. Congress: make leisure time quiet time again, 141 views
5. “Ad loop” and “excitement” equal incongruence, 122 views
6. No-escape TV in 5 of 6 airports, 102 views
7. Knight Foundation errs on captive-audience news, 90 views
8. Outdoor video: what’s wrong with this picture?, 68 views
9. Serenos = serene: a definition mayors should know, 59 views
10. Captive-audience media: Charles Black was on the case, 50 views
Top five clicked links:
1. Malicious stereo ads
2. Kovacs v. Cooper (Supreme Court case involving audio truck)
3.Public Utilities Comm. v. Pollak (Supreme Court case involving captive-audience radio)
4. Algora Publishing (the publisher of our Noise Wars book)
5. Washington Post piece on checkout TV
Thank you to all the visitors who are helping to boost awareness of growing concerns over captive-audience media.
A new blog on directional audio technology is touting Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy (Algora Publishing), our just-released book that takes a critical look at out-of-home TV and other types of captive-audience media.
The blog, called Directional Speakers, focuses on the audio component of digital signage platforms and points to the book’s coverage of directional audio technology as a solution to problems posed by out-of-home TV and other captive-audience media.
“Directional sound products point the way to effective solutions for environments with multiple sources of media noise,” the blog says, specifically referencing a company called Panphonics, which was featured in Noise Wars.
The book “points to Panphonics Sound Shower directional audio speakers as a solution for the increasing noise problems in public places such as airports and shopping centers,” the blog says.
If you’re not familiar with directional audio and you’re interested in captive-audience issues, it’s worth your while to learn more about it because the technology can address a lot of the problems posed by out-of-home media. That’s why we featured it in the book. With directional audio, you can aim audio to certain areas much like a light beam, keeping the areas surrounding the targeted area free of noise. Thus, in an airport, you can maintain noise-free areas. That creates a win-win solution, because those who want to, say, watch TV can continue to do so while those who want quiet can get their needs met as well.
So, from our point of view, directional audio is a technology worth promoting. There’s an interesting article on directional audio from a University of Southern California publication called Illumin on the technology. We used this article as part of the background research when writing Noise Wars.
The trend to introduce TV and other intrusive media to settings in which people can’t escape except at high personal cost is criticized in a book just released by Algora Publishing in New York City.
Although media companies are free to introduce TVs to buses, subways, and trains, among other settings where unwilling viewers are forced to watch it, many people don’t like being made captive to intrusive media like TV.
The new book, called Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy, explores the rise of out-of-home TV and other types of captive-audience media and gives voice to critics of the trend.
By some estimates, TV wil be pervasive outside the home in as litte as five years. Within just two years, half a billion TVs are expected to be introduced to out-of-home settings. That’s two TVs for every person in the United States.
The aim to attract advertisers is the driving force behind the explosion in out-of-home media.
Critics take particular aim at captive-audience media in public schools and on public school buses. A coalition of more than 50 civic, educational, parenting, religious, and social organizations has blasted captive-audience media in schools and on school buses.
But, according to the book, captive-audience media in schools is just the tip of the iceberg.
Is it a violation of free speech rights to prohibit a billboard company from erecting a bunch of digital signs in a city? Lamar Advertising, the big outdoor ad company, says yes. Havelock, N.C., says no.
It doesn’t look like the First Amendment question will get answered because a July 30 news report on the billboard controversy says the two sides are trying to work out an agreement.
Lamar has bludgeoned municipalities with the First Amendment argument at least two times previously, in Los Angeles and Salem, Ore. We say “bludgeoned” because it’s not clear prohibiting billboards is a First Amendment violation. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear restrictions on certain media to protect citizens against intrusions into their rights are consistent with the Constitution.
Exhibit A is a 1948 case, Kovacs vs. Cooper, we’ve talked about before in this blog. Trenton, N.J., enacted an ordinance prohibiting the broadcasting of “loud and raucous” messages from sound trucks. The Supreme Court upheld the city’s right to enforce its prohibition on the ground that the audio trucks violate residents’ right to privacy. Since residents aren’t given a chance to decide whether or not they want to consume the content, the audio trucks constitute a form of coercion, a violation of their privacy.
“The unwilling listener is not like the passer-by who may be offered a pamphlet in the street but cannot be made to take it,” the Court said in its ruling. “In his home or on the street, he is practically helpless to escape this interference with his privacy by loudspeakers except through the protection of the municipality.”
Digital signs are cut from the same cloth as sound trucks, even though the former involve video and the latter, audio. With their flashing light and incessant movement video images are virtually impossible to ignore and giant video images, which are what digital billboards serve up, constitute visual noise of the most brazen, coercive kind.
When we were researching Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy, a book just released from Algora Publishing in New York City, we looked into battles in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., over the introduction of giant digital screens in neighborhoods where residents complained about the flashing light and constant screen movement. The environment had become so polluted with visual noise that they couldn’t sleep in their own homes.
In any case, what Kovacs vs. Cooper tells us is that certain media can be restricted without violating the First Amendment, and that some restrictions are necessary to keep our world from collapsing into an uninhabitable circus environment, although they don’t quite use that terminology.
From a free-speech standpoint, it would be hard to find anyone more diehard about protecting that right than us. We believe everyone, including billboard companies, should be able to communicate what they want, even if people find the message offensive or outrageous. But that’s not the same thing as the freedom to turn people into a captive audience; people need to be free not to consume the message. The key is choice. And giant digital signs, which commandeer public space for a private purpose, are the antithesis of choice.