Thursday, February 12, 2015

What If They Had A Going Away Party And Nobody Came?

After ignoring The Internet for a surprisingly long time, then-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates took some time away from pulverizing smaller companies and using their skeletons as soup bones to personally study the thing.

A few days later, he suddenly and decisively ordered his vast and profitable enterprise to turn on a dime and embrace the "Internet...tidal wave".
“The Internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules. It is an incredible opportunity as well as incredible challenge. I am looking forward to your input on how we can improve our strategy to continue our track record of incredible success.”
Microsoft was far too late off the blocks to match or beat or bully Google (which was so much better than everything else it seemed at the time that it may have been left here accidentally by an advanced civilization in violation of their Prime Directive) but they did finally get it.  This was what the future looked like, and if they wanted to stay in the game, they needed a piece of that action.

Jump to:  20 years later.

Interior, NBC/Universal Headquarters.

A man is addressing his team:
Oops.  Sorry.

 Wrong clip.

 A man is addressing his team:
Yes, like Microsoft 20 years earlier, NBC has been blind to a fundamental change in the ecosystem.

And no, it didn't begin with Brian Williams: 
Brian Williams Scandal Prompts Frantic Efforts at NBC to Curb Rising Damage


Alarmed, the news operation immediately began scrambling to contain the damage, according to people with knowledge of the events of the last week. A team was quickly assembled to draft a statement that Mr. Williams could read during his “NBC Nightly News” show that evening to address the issue. But the Facebook post boxed them in. The explanations had to match.

Mr. Williams went on the air hours later and delivered the statement, including an apology.

That was the start of a week of rapidly cascading events that besieged both Mr. Williams and the network. Interviews with people with knowledge of the process, as well as former employees who spoke to people at NBC, portray a news division operating in crisis mode as it investigated its own celebrity anchor and assessed whether he could salvage his position.

Control of the situation quickly passed to Stephen B. Burke, chief executive of NBCUniversal. Thursday afternoon, Mr. Burke called the first of a series of secret meetings, this one at the conference room in the executive suites on the 51st floor. Those present included Patricia Fili-Krushel, chairwoman of NBCUniversal News Group, and Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News. Mr. Williams did not attend.

Mr. Burke sought advice from Mr. Williams’s predecessor, Tom Brokaw, who canceled a vacation in the Virgin Islands to offer his feedback. The two shared uncertainties about the best approach, with Mr. Brokaw expressing concerns about how the episode would affect NBC News employees, according to one person with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. Burke also consulted David L. Cohen, an executive vice president at NBCUniversal’s parent company, Comcast, who was busy on an issue with much higher financial stakes — Comcast’s attempt to gain regulatory approval for a $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.
NBC News is dying -- along with all the other outlets of brackish Beltway wisdom -- because NBC News forgot how to do news.

Its lead anchor is a glib newsreader whose celebrity and hollaback relationship to the facts of his own life led him into places he should never have gone. Its Sunday morning flagship program was driven into the ground by a simian host whose primary mission was groveling for the good opinion of Politico and not saying or doing anything that would piss off Matt Drudge. And replacing David Gregory with Chuck Todd?  Nothing could have sent the viewership a clearer message that none of this was a mistake than announcing that "Meet the Press" liked rolling along in a medically-induced coma, thank you very much, and planned to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Even its Liberal petting zoo across the hall at MSNBC -- which is supposed to be Leaning Forward! Into the Future! Or Something! -- is clearly operating under directives which have its anchors twitching like puppies hitting the shock-collar perimeter of the corporate Invisible Fence every time they get too close to asking tough questions about their own industry and parent company.

And so now that Brian Williams has been sent to the Shame Hut for six full Halperins, I can't help but notice that just about the only people who appear to be asking Profound Moral Questions about how rudely the rabble treat their betters, or raging at the Heavens at the Out-Herods Herodding of it all, are people in the same line of work, in roughly the same income bracket, who also may not want people poking around too hard at all those freshly turned graves in their professional basements.

And the rabble?

Well the rabble seem kinda...meh.

Yeah, rich guy got suspended for pulling a dick move in front of 20 million people and isn't that just very sad. Meanwhile, my cousin Emil? He's about the same age dis Williams guy. Been outta steady work since '09, Emil has. Unemployment ran out in '11. Company he worked for sacked him because they figured they could get a kid to do it for half. He's been living on my couch for a coupla months now. He rakes leaves. Has a paper route. Grown ass man, with a paper route!  What the hell have we come to?  Sends out a few resumes a month, answers some ads, but he's not fooling himself. Like he's aged 20 years.

I can assure you, no one in the Real World is hazzing a sad over the fate of Brian Williams.

Meanwhile, just five blocks away, the host of a basic cable comedy show has announced that after 16 years he is going to do something else. And a lot of those same rabble are wrapping their teevees in black crepe and preparing for his last show as if it were the passing of Lincoln's funeral train.

If I were the CEO of All Media, I would take three days off, go far away and think about a few things.

Like who really gives a shit about the fate of Brian Williams?   I mean. Lester Holt will do a fine job of reading the TelePrompTer and not scaring people, so who really cares?  Your customers?  The ones whose eyeballs pay the bills?   Oh God no.  The only people who are conspicuously freaking out about it are a handful of your other, wildly-overcompensated employees who are terrified you are going to start subjecting them to performance evaluations,

And what about Jon Stewart?  A whole lot of your customers -- the ones who are paying the bills -- would crawl over broken glass to keep him on the air a little longer.  And those same people continue to gag on your shitty basic "news" product and walk away from it, no matter how much you wrap it in bacon and handjobs.

To me, this does not seem real hard to figure out.

Over in the Better Universe, the CEO of All Media would come back from his walkabout and excitedly pen a long memo about how:
“Telling the truth in a clever and humane way is a tidal wave. It changes the rules. It is an incredible opportunity as well as incredible challenge. I am looking forward to your input on how we can improve our strategy to continue our track record of incredible success.”
But of course we don't live in the Better Universe, do we?

Well, not yet anyway.

*Thanks for the catch, Dave


PsychoPoet said...

Interesting that Stewart is leaving so soon after Colbert. I wonder if Stephan inspired Jon?

Mike Lumish said...

Thirty five years ago, while Neil Postman wrote books warning of the growing subservience of the news to the entertainment side of the tee vee business, Hayes and Abernathy were up in the Harvard Business Review with articles like "Managing our way to Economic Decline" - articles that were dismissed contemptuously at the time, but today are treated as sacred revelations.

So Brian Williams fucked up, to be replaced by some functional equivalent and six months no one will remember the difference. In the mean time an entire cohort of young people is facing ruin because nobody ever got that first job and now they are old while at the other end of the demographic snake an entire cohort of not quite old people is facing ruin because they get chucked out at the first sign of trouble and no one will ever hire them again. Fifteen years without a job before Medicare and SS is one hell of a morale killer.

In my circle, wizened academics gather to speak in hushed tones of the destruction of the independent professions and the hollowing out of our once vaunted research establishments. Simpletons gape at the spectacle of San Francisco and "tech" but toys for children is no sound basis for a continent wide economy.

Back at MIT in the 80s people were saying that Microsoft and its heavy handed anticompetitive business practices were going to retard the progress of personal computing by two decades. After the fact, that sounds out right.

Don P said...

Thank You DG, you nailed my thoughts exactly, who gives a damn about Brian Williams? Barring a Hooker & Blow problem, he's made enough money at NBC to fund the lives of his next 4 generations of descendants (He was making 10 million/year). He can walk out of there and has the resources to do anything he wants. In fact it's really a scandal if he goes back to NBC news.

Lester Holt/Bob Costas/ the carcass of Tom Brokaw/ the ghost of John Chancellor will do a fine job replacing him. The NBC nightly News with Joe Scarborough? Hey NBC, Olbermann's available, I bet!