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  • Posts Tagged Captive-audience TV

    DOOH Researcher: Digital Billboards Need Regulation

    The captive-audience media industry in 2007 paid researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to look at digital billboards—what some people call television on a stick—and found, unsurprisingly, that the billboards don’t pose a distracted-driver problem beyond that of any other type of billboard.

    Critics of the billboards say the research was flawed and point to its rejection for publication by the Transportation Research Board, the congressionally chartered agency.

    While the debate over the quality of the research will surely go on, what’s clear is that even the lead researcher on the project says regulation is needed for billboards that use flashing lights and quick movement to attract people’s attention.

    “If we don’t . . . get on top of this right now while the capabilities are expanding, every roadway will be filled with flashing lights and video,” says the researcher, Suzanne Lee.

    Lee is quoted in the March 3 New York Times in a major feature on the controversy over digital billboards, what we on this blog call captive-audience media.

    We at Media by Choice have to pause and savor the irony: the Digital out-of-home (DOOH) media industry paid Lee to conduct her research and she did what she was paid to do: find that digital billboards are no more distracting than regular billboards. But now the researcher is telling journalists that, despite what her industry-paid research says, she believes the billboards do in fact up the distraction level.

    From our point of view, there’s no mystery to this. Digital billboards exploit what scientists call our involuntary attention. Like TVs in places where we have no choice but to watch them—like in elevators or on buses—digital billboards use our involuntary attention not to protect us against big cats slinking through tall grass on the Serengeti but to hit us with audio-video content that no one has asked for yet isn’t allowed to escape.

    Given the massive investment in money and other resources by media and other companies into captive-audience media, the growth of high-distraction platforms like digital billboards is like a big ship that simply can’t turn back. But as the researcher Suzanne Lee says, the time to look at and understand the impact this media has on us is now—while we’re still on the front end of this growth curb. What we mustn’t do is wait until so many tens of billions of dollars have been invested that no one is willing to say that this juggernaut of inescapable media has no clothes.

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    47 Anti-TV Books

    I’ve been seeing interest in our occasional posts updating various book collections we maintain, so I’m posting this update to our anti-TV book collection, now 47 titles strong. If you question why so much of our world is organized around screen media in general and TV in particular, you might find this collection of interest. I’ve done Internet searches on the topic and as far as I can tell this is the most complete list of anti-TV books available. If I’m missing a title, please let me know!

    47 anti-TV books:

    Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy (Algora Publishing: 2009), Robert Freedman

    The Age of American Unreason (Vintage) (Vintage: 2009), Susan Jacoby

    Living Without the Screen (Lea’s Communication) (Routledge: 2008), Marina Krcmar

    The Assault on Reason (Penguin: 2008), Al Gore

    Media Unlimited, Revised Edition: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives (Holt: 2007), Todd Gitlin

    Television (Dalkey Archive Press: 2007), Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Jordan Stump: FICTION

    Noise: How Our Media-saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families (Ascension Press: 2007), Teresa Tomeo

    Living Outside the Box: TV-Free Families Share Their Secrets (Eastern Washington University Press: 2007), Barbara Brock

    Remote Controlled: How TV Affects You and Your Family (Ebury Press: 2007), Aric Sigman

    The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid (Algonquon Books: 2007), Ellen Currey-Wilson

    Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live in It (Bloomsbury USA: 2006), Thomas de Zengotita

    Noise (Viking: 2006), Bart Kosko

    Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing (New Riders Publishing: 2006), Adam Greenfield

    iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind (Collins Living: 2008), Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan

    Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Penguin: 2005), Neil Postman

    The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest (Pine Forge Press: 2005), David Croteau and William Hoynes

    The Medium is the Massage (Ginko Press: 2005) Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

    We Know What You Want: How They Change Your Mind
    (The Disinformation Company: 2004), Martin Howard and Douglas Rushkoff

    The New Media Monopoly (Beacon Press 2004), Ben Bagdikian

    Television after TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition (Console-ing Passions) (Duke Univ. Press: 2004), Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson

    Feed (Candlewick: 2004), M.T. Anderson: FICTION

    The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century (Monthly Review Press :2004), Robert McChesney

    Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon: 2002), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky

    The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life (Penguin: 2002), Marie Winn

    T.V.: The Great Escape! : Life-Changing Stories from Those Who Dared to Take Control (Crossway Books: 2001), Bob DeMoss

    Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster, 2001), Robert Putnam

    Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space (Console-ing Passions) (Duke University Press: 2001), Anna McCarthy

    Coercion: Why We Listen to What They Say (Riverhead Trade: 2000), Douglas Rushkoff

    Glued to the Tube: The Threat of Television Addiction to Today’s Family (Sourcebooks: 2000), Cheryl Pawlowski

    Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It (Simon & Schuster: 1999), Jane Healy

    Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge–And Why We Must (William Morrow: 1999), Kalle Lasn

    Spy TV (Slab O Concrete Publications: 1999), David Burke

    Get a Life! (Bloomsbury Publishing: 1998), David Burke and Jean Lotus

    Seducing America: How Television Charms the Modern Voter (Sage Publications: 1998), Roderick Hart

    The Commercialization of American Culture: New Advertising, Control and Democracy (Sage Publications: 1995), Matt McAllister

    …And There Was Television (Routledge: 1994), Ellis Cashmore

    Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (The MIT Press: 1994), Marshall McLuhan, with an introduction by Lewis Lapham

    The Disappearance of Childhood (Vintage: 1994), Neil Postman

    The Unreality Industry: The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What It Is Doing to Our Lives (Oxford Univ. Press: 1993), Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis

    Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education (Vintage: 1992), Neil Postman

    The Age of Missing Information (Plume: 1993), Bill McKibben

    Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience (Communication Series) (Lawrence Eribaum: 1990), Robert William Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    Fahrenheit 451 (Ballantine Books: 1987), Ray Bradbury: FICTION

    No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (Oxford Univ. Press: 1985), Joshua Meyrowitz

    What to Do After You Turn Off the TV (Ballantine Books: 1985), Frances Moore Lappe

    Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (Harper Perennial: 1978), Jerry Mander

    The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Univ. of Toronto Press: 1962), Marshall McLuhan

    Take our survey

    Is TV in public places good or bad? Let us know your thoughts in this Media by Choice survey on the good and the bad of TV in public places such as elevators, taxi cabs, subways, trains, buses, airport gates, doctor’s offices, office and hotel lobbies, and so on. Click here to take survey.

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    Flanagan on Noise Wars: where’s the beef?

    And out-of-home TV consultant asks tough questions of book critical of his industry

    For media professionals, there are probably few industries more exciting to be in right now than out-of-home TV. The technology is advancing, the advertisers are climbing on board, the networks are expanding. Anyone who’s on the top of their game in this industry is no doubt surveying this realm and finding it good—which makes it quixotic for anyone to step in front of this locomotive and ask the industry to become introspective for a moment, which is what I try to do with my book Noise Wars.

    Out-of-home TV is based on a conceit that people who board a train or a bus or who go to a store to buy shoes welcomes a blaring TV, and that if they don’t, they can just ignore it. But many people don’t welcome it, they resent it, and they can’t ignore it. And what’s more, people today who don’t find out-of-home TV intrusive will find it intrusive tomorrow because at some point the industry will cross a line and start testing even the tolerance level of people who otherwise wouldn’t give it much thought.

    With a message like that, it’s to be expected that anyone involved in the industry would dismiss the book as the tirade of a Luddite, yet industry consultant Paul Flanagan, who writes about the book on his blog Experiate, doesn’t do that. Although he’s an out-of-home TV professional who has helped develop projects for some impressive and admirable companies and organizations, he takes the concerns raised in the book seriously and tries to see things from the side of the critic.

    “Mr. Freedman starts a compelling discussion on the use of media in society,” he says. “Clearly there is a problem here. . . . The book brings to light that our industry is not desired by everyone; there are many people and organizations that do not like media in society. This is important. We need to understand that for every action there is a reaction.”

    Flanagan also acknowledges the black eye the industry is getting from out-of-home media companies that target children on school buses and in the classrooms, captive-audience settings that are simply indefensible.

    But then he hits back hard against the limited empirical research in the book to support some of the claims made. How many people are not joining gyms because the TVs are intrusive? The book raises that question but doesn’t support it beyond a blog comment. When looking at boom cars (a topic addressed as a form of captive-audience media), the book fails to link research that’s mentioned to the affects of boom cars.

    More importantly, the book relies too much on the blogosphere and not enough on quantifiable research on the impact of media on society. “[T]he execution may have been better suited to a research paper or critique,” he says.

    Flanagan’s criticism is fair. Although the blogosphere today is too important to ignore, and the book’s use of it is appropriate, in my view, the book could do a better job linking the research that’s out there to the concerns over invasive media. Until a better job is done bringing the two together, I would agree the book can only serve as a starting point for discussion rather than a definitive report on the problem.

    That said, the book tries to find a middle ground and discusses technological solutions to the problems that are raised. Among other things, the book talks about the role directional audio and screen filters in making environments comfortable for willing as well as unwilling audiences. I would have liked Flanagan to have talked about that, because here the book is doing more than expressing a problem; it’s expressing a solution as well.

    Flanagan deserves credit for not only approaching the book with an open mind but for poking holes in my arguments in a fair and constructive way. I welcome his input.

    His review, called “Noise Wars . . . or just noisy?” is posted on Amazon as well as on his blog.

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    Out-of-home TV: incivility institutionalized

    After Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan to ban smoking in parks and beaches, a New York Times reporter wondered around Central Park asking people what they would ban if they had the power. His report, called “Parkgoers suggest things New York could ban,” appeared yesterday.

    Not surprisingly, most people wanted to ban noisy activities, but not just any noisy activities; people wanted to ban media noise: people talking on their cell phones, playing their car stereos too loudly, playing musical instruments too loudly.

    We define media noise in this blog as noise that’s related to communication. Thus, drum playing is media noise, because music is communication, but highway traffic isn’t.

    In fact, about three-quarters of all responses to the reporter, as well as the dozens of comments that the story generated online, involved media noise. The next biggest category was litter. Not surprising, and indeed, media noise has been described by noise activists as audio litter—that is, someone casting off their personal noise the way someone casts off the wrapper of a candy bar and leaves it on the ground without regard to the surrounding environment.

    The reaction to the New York Times reporter is consistent with what we learned when we were researching our book, Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy. There’s a feeling that we’re losing control over our ability to find refuge from the media noise of others—that even in our own homes we can’t get away from the boom cars, the backyard TVs of our neighbors, the loud cell phone conversations on the sidewalk.

    The Times piece made us think of the rise of digital signage, particularly out-of-home TV networks, because they’re premised on the same grand conceit of the person who disregards others and leaves his audio litter wherever he wants: that our shared environment is mine to pollute as I will and everyone else must either live with it or go somewhere else.

    To be sure, the out-of-home TV network isn’t just some selfish person who’s so self-absorbed that he can’t think why others wouldn’t want to listen to his music. There is a difference between the two. In the latter case, the self-absorbed indifference to others is institutionalized.

    Once every shoe store in the United States is plugged into an out-of-home TV network, we won’t be able to buy shoes without also having to watch TV. That will be great for the advertisers on the TV and the media company that owns the network, but for people who just want to buy shoes, it will be yet one more environment that will have to be endured.

    That grand conceit of the polluter might be tolerable in a world where there are other places to go. But in world where there’s a boom car around every corner, an out-of-home TV in every restaurant, and a cell phone conversation on every seat next to you in the subway, that conceit is a luxury that will eventually be a target of resentment.

    Take our survey

    Is TV in public places good or bad? Let us know your thoughts in this Media by Choice survey on the good and the bad of TV in public places such as elevators, taxi cabs, subways, trains, buses, airport gates, doctor’s offices, office and hotel lobbies, and so on. Click here to take survey.

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    Research resource: 42 anti-TV books

    In an ongoing effort, we’re identifying anti-TV books and putting them together in one place. Now that were up to 42 titles, the time seems right to put them in a blog post.

    Many of these you’re likely familiar with, or at least know about. Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, for example, seems to be one that everyone knows about. But there are some lesser-known gems here. We especially like No Sense of Place by Joshua Myrowitz. This book talks about how TV and other digital media changes our perception of space. What’s especially notable is its prescience. The book was written in 1985, when TV still typically meant only one or two TVs in the home. Yet, its relevance in today’s world of ubiquitous out-of-home digital TV is even greater. In our view it’s one of the must-reads if you’re interested in the social impact of TV.

    For each of the books we link to its page on Amazon. We like the way Amazon includes brief descriptions of its books and encourages reader comments. We also like the way the site, when it has permission from the publisher, makes the book contents available for sampling.

    We include our book, Noise Wars, here too. We list it first. We certainly want to showcase it, but it’s also the most recently published title, and our list is chronological.

    Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy (Algora Publishing: 2009), Robert Freedman

    The Age of American Unreason (Vintage)(Vintage: 2009), Susan Jacoby

    Living Without the Screen (Lea’s Communication)(Routledge: 2008), Marina Krcmar

    The Assault on Reason(Penguin: 2008), Al Gore

    Media Unlimited, Revised Edition: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives(Holt: 2007), Todd Gitlin

    Television(Dalkey Archive Press: 2007), Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Jordan Stump: FICTION

    Noise: How Our Media-saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families(Ascension Press: 2007), Teresa Tomeo

    Living Outside the Box: TV-Free Families Share Their Secrets(Eastern Washington University Press: 2007), Barbara Brock

    Remote Controlled: How TV Affects You and Your Family(Ebury Press: 2007), Aric Sigman

    The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid(Algonquon Books: 2007), Ellen Currey-Wilson

    Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live in It(Bloomsbury USA: 2006), Thomas de Zengotita

    Noise(Viking: 2006), Bart Kosko

    Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing(New Riders Publishing: 2006), Adam Greenfield

    iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind(Collins Living: 2008), Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan

    Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business(Penguin: 2005), Neil Postman

    The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest(Pine Forge Press: 2005), David Croteau and William Hoynes

    The Medium is the Massage(Ginko Press: 2005) Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

    Television after TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition (Console-ing Passions)(Duke Univ. Press: 2004), Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson

    Feed(Candlewick: 2004), M.T. Anderson: FICTION

    Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media(Pantheon: 2002), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky

    The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life(Penguin: 2002), Marie Winn

    T.V.: The Great Escape! : Life-Changing Stories from Those Who Dared to Take Control(Crossway Books: 2001), Bob DeMoss

    Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community(Simon & Schuster, 2001), Robert Putnam

    Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space (Console-ing Passions)(Duke University Press: 2001), Anna McCarthy

    Coercion: Why We Listen to What They Say(Riverhead Trade: 2000), Douglas Rushkoff

    Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It(Simon & Schuster: 1999), Jane Healy

    Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge–And Why We Must(William Morrow: 1999), Kalle Lasn

    Get a Life!(Bloomsbury Publishing: 1998), David Burke and Jean Lotus

    Seducing America: How Television Charms the Modern Voter(Sage Publications: 1998), Roderick Hart

    The Commercialization of American Culture: New Advertising, Control and Democracy(Sage Publications: 1995), Matt McAllister

    …And There Was Television(Routledge: 1994), Ellis Cashmore

    Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man(The MIT Press: 1994), Marshall McLuhan, with an introduction by Lewis Lapham

    The Disappearance of Childhood(Vintage: 1994), Neil Postman

    The Unreality Industry: The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What It Is Doing to Our Lives(Oxford Univ. Press: 1993), Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis

    Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education (Vintage: 1992), Neil Postman

    The Age of Missing Information(Plume: 1993), Bill McKibben

    Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience (Communication Series)
    (Lawrence Eribaum: 1990), Robert William Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    Fahrenheit 451(Ballantine Books: 1987), Ray Bradbury: FICTION

    No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior(Oxford Univ. Press: 1985), Joshua Meyrowitz

    What to Do After You Turn Off the TV(Ballantine Books: 1985), Frances Moore Lappe

    Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television(Harper Perennial: 1978), Jerry Mander

    The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man(Univ. of Toronto Press: 1962), Marshall McLuhan

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    The alternate reality of captive-audience media

    When you read material provided by media companies that specialize in captive audiences it’s impressive the lengths they go to to reassure us that we like being made captive to their media.

    We learn from their press releases and Web sites that we like to have our lives improved upon by having infotainment and commercials to watch while we wait in line at a store or ride a bus or pump our gas. Captive-audience media companies have lots of surveys, too, that show us how much we love having audio-visual media pushed out at us. We certainly benefit from knowing that large percentages of us love to have a TV in front of us at all times to protect us from having to confront our world without the virtuous content of targeted and engaging programming.

    It’s because we so clearly love having our lives improved upon by having media pushed out to us unasked for that it’s hard to understand why so many people dislike—and even get angry at or feel insulted by—being made captive to TV. It’s almost like the two sides are living in parallel universes or that one side operates in an alternate reality.

    But there you have it. Despite the virtuousness of the content, there seems to be this large and vocal minority that just doesn’t get it and insists on taking issue with being made captive to intrusive and invasive media.

    When captive-audience TV started showing up in gas stations, there was the inconvenient fact that quite a number of people made comments like this one:

    “I will not go to stations that have [TVs on gas pumps]. So, as a result, I have not been to a Shell station in months. (I live in the Chicago area and they are the only stations with them so far.) I can only hope other people are doing the same thing. If not, this sort of irritating constant sales bombardment will start going on everywhere.”

    And when TVs started becoming more common in grocery store checkout lines, there were off-message comments like this one:

    “The minute I see my first TV at a checkout, I’ll tell the manager, ‘Watch me. I’m about to walk out of your store because I can’t stand TV. You won’t see me again until all the other stores in the area have the same damn thing and I must put up with it or starve.’ No, no, don’t try to tell me how Most People seem to like it. I’m not Most People, I hate it, and I’m leaving now, empty-handed.”

    And when captive-audience ads started showing up on our cell phones as text messages, suddenly we started seeing comments like this one:

    “I serve notice to all those who force me to see their ads by interfering with my ELECTIVE reading – NEVER would I purchase your product. At the same time, I will say the same thing to those who think it’s clever to blast my hearing with TV commercials that are 100 times louder than the programming. My solution is simple – I mute ALL commercials. Cha-ching. That’s the sound of the cash drawer slamming on your fingers.”

    The reality is, many people don’t like having content pushed out at them. Audio-visual media is by its nature intrusive media. Unlike print, in which we can choose to consume the content or not, audio-visual media is “push” media that takes away our ability to choose. Rather, we’re given only the option to try to ignore it. And each of us differs in how effectively we can ignore push media.

    To be sure, the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue of captive-audience media and found in favor of the captors rather than the captives. But at the time the court looked at the issue, in 1952, push media was as rare as a Japanese car on a street in the United States. It was a non-issue, and the court looked at a single instance of audience captivity. Today, captive-audience media is becoming ubiquitous and stands to fill much of the space in which we conduct the business of our lives: stores, buses, trains, street corners, building lobbies, elevators, restaurants—you name it, it’s coming.

    What’s more, the Court had looked at a different type of captive-audience media a few years before the commuter-train case and ruled against the captors in favor of the captives. That case, Kovacs v. Cooper, confirmed a municipality’s right to outlaw the broadcast of captive audio content on a public street. So the legal right of media companies to force-feed intrusive media to people is not at all clear cut.

    Push media is replacing print and other “pull” media and is poised to become the dominant media of our future. For that reason it’s time to revisit the issue of audience captivity. Too many people simply don’t subscribe to the rosy picture that captive-audience media providers try to paint in their press releases and on their Web sites. The reality is, grave differences separate these two sides. We don’t live in parallel universes. We live in one universe, and these differences need to be reconciled.

    Take our survey

    Is TV in public places good or bad? Let us know your thoughts in this Media by Choice survey on the good and the bad of TV in public places such as elevators, taxi cabs, subways, trains, buses, airport gates, doctor’s offices, office and hotel lobbies, and so on. Click here to take survey.

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    Lyle Bunn, others weigh in on Noise Wars

    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.

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    New book challenges out-of-home media

    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.

    First-ever exclusive look at captive-audience media, new from Algora Publishing

    First-ever exclusive look at captive-audience media, from Algora Publishing

    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.

    Read the reviews for Noise Wars.

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    Media captivity = enhancement. Huh?

    What part of “captivity” do media executives not get?

    A press release dated July 17 talks about a distribution arrangement for an out-of-home media network that provides programming and ads for TVs in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices.

    There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the release, but like so many communications of this type, in which out-of-home media executives talk about their programming, there is no recognition that they’re force-feeding audio and video content onto people, at least some of whom do not want to have that content thrust upon them.

    “One of our key company objectives is to improve the wait time experience by offering digital media that is entertaining and educational,” the head of the company says.

    “Improve” is the problematic word. Embedded in this word is the assumption that adding TV to an environment where people can’t choose not to watch it makes the environment better. By whose standard? Who is the judge that’s decided, for everyone in that environment, that TV makes the environment better?

    When we were researching a book on captive-audience media, we discovered case after case in which media executives say one thing—people love their TVs—while consumers say another—how much they hate being made captive to TV they can’t escape except at high personal cost.

    No doubt executives of out-of-home media companies genuinely believe their TVs improve environments. What’s more, the content might be good. But many people resent being made captive to audio-video content that they can’t escape. Audio-video content is not like print content. It can’t be ignored. Media executives know this. Again, while we were researching our book, we came across quote after quote in which media executives tout their media platforms to advertisers on the basis that people cannot ignore the content.

    Force-feeding audio-video content to people is considered offensive by many people and provokes resentment. Charles L. Black, Jr., the famed legal theorist whose work underwrites some of out most far-reaching decisions, like Brown vs. Board of Education, finds captive-audience media an offensive assault on our liberty. U.S. Supreme Court justices William O. Douglas and Felix Frankfurter do as well.

    It’s safe to say that none of these renowned legal thinkers would find the waiting room experience enhanced by inescapable TV. So when media executives talk with such certainty about enhancing our experience, exactly whose experience are they enhancing?

    First-ever exclusive look at captive-audience media, new from Algora Publishing

    First-ever exclusive look at captive-audience media, from Algora Publishing

    If you’re interested in reading more about audience captivity, the book we referenced above is available from Algora Publishing in New York City. It’s called Noise Wars: Audience Captivity and Our Loss of Autonomy.

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    Captive-audience media: Charles Black was on the case

    If there is one person I wouldn’t want to go up against in a court of law it’s Charles L. Black, Jr., the famed professor of constitutional law at Yale and Columbia University. In his heyday, during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, his was one of the most prominent voices on desegregation (Brown vs. Board of Education) and presidential impeachment, and was widely regarded by his peers as one of the top constitutional authorities of his generation. Sadly, he was never appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court because, had he been, it’s very possible that captive-audience media, a cause de celebre in the view of this blog, would have been deemed a generation ago an unconstitutional abridgment of individual liberty, and we never would have had to launch this blog. Thus, all the time we devote to this blog could have been spent on much more bright and positive pursuits, such as talking about the good ways to offer information to people (there are such ways)—that is, ways that treat people with the respect and dignity they’re owed.

    As it is, a divided Supreme Court in 1952 overturned a unanimous lower court and gave an okay to captive-audience media on a commuter rail in Washington, D.C. The end result of that decision is what we’re faced with today: TV on buses, trains, subways, taxis, elevators, street corners, bus stops, ad infinitum. Any place where people gather is now fair game for someone to impose TV or other intrusive media on whoever happens to be captive in that environment at that time. And make no mistake: the executives who operated the captive-audience media on that 1952 commuter rail totally understood what they were doing. One of the company executives described the service as “delivering a guaranteed audience . . . . If they can hear, they can hear your commercial.”

    Of course, even the Supreme Court had some mixed feelings about audience captivity. Just a few years prior to that case it said it was okay for a city to ban the use of audio trucks for commercial purposes (trucks that drive around for the purpose of blaring out commercial messages to pedestrians. Such bans don’t represent an unconstitutional violation of free speech because it’s not the speech that’s being banned but the delivery mechanism. As the court clearly saw, allowing anybody with speakers on a truck to drive around pushing out whatever message they want turns people into captives because they have no opportunity to say no.

    Why was audience captivity not okay in that case but okay in the commuter rail case? The difference turned on the idea of tacit permission. Since the train riders voluntarily took the rail service, they gave their tacit permission to be made captives to the commercial media.

    To the judges who dissented in the case, that’s a pretty thin reed on which to draw a distinction. For some commuters, taking the rail is hardly a choice; it’s the only practical way for them to get in and out of town every day. Thus, as Justice William O. Douglas said, “Compulsion which comes from circumstances can be just as real as compulsion which comes from necessity.”

    In any case, we are where we are in terms of captive-audience media. But as Charles Black made clear in what’s widely regarded as a classic essay on liberty, He Cannot Choose But Hear: The Plight of the Captive Auditor, which he wrote after the commuter-rail decision, the Supreme Court decision doesn’t mean we have to allow audience captivity. There are plenty of ways to fight it. Nothing in that decision affects our rights to appeal for curbs at the legislative, council, and commission levels of government, not to mention in the court of public opinion.

    It’s in this spirit of appealing to the court of public opinion that Algora Publishing, a literary house in New York City, has just released our book Noise Wars: Compulsory Media and Our Loss of Autonomy.

    The book looks at the growth of captive-audience media, the different forms it takes, why its poised to grow so much in the near future, and what the ranks of unhappy captives are doing about it. It ends with a look at ways to create environments in which both willing and unwilling audiences of captive-audience media can happily co-exist.

    Ultimately it’s a positive book because it shows that many people are not sitting by idly while media companies blanket our common spaces with media that people can’t get away from. If you are a critic of captive-audience media, I hope you’ll support Algora Publishing and the effort to put captive-audience media in its place by buying the book. As the author, I would appreciate it too.

    Take our survey

    Is TV in public places good or bad? Let us know your thoughts in this Media by Choice survey on the good and the bad of TV in public places such as elevators, taxi cabs, subways, trains, buses, airport gates, doctor’s offices, office and hotel lobbies, and so on. Click here to take survey.

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