TV a la carte

This past week, I attended the Wade H. Hargrove Media Law and Policy Colloquium featuring David Cohen, the Comcast Executive Vice President. He addressed a number of topics including net neutrality and the possibility of unbundling cable packages. While net neutrality is a topic I know we can’t get enough of recently, I was more intrigued by his discussion about unbundling.

Unbundling a cable package simply means that a cable company (aka Time Warner or Comcast) would offer individual channels to consumers instead of making them pay for a package of channels. Some people only watch ESPN – they would only pay for ESPN. Some people only watch MTV – they would only pay for MTV. Think of it as TV channels a la carte.

This kind of service is already available through the TV services some people choose to use from the Internet. Hulu, Apple TV and individual stations’ websites are examples of this. So wouldn’t it make sense for cable companies to follow the trend?

Cohen said no, and that unbundling channels might make cable more expensive. I did some further research since this was all new to me, and I found there was some legitimacy in Cohen’s point. For example, according to The Atlantic, an ESPN-only package could cost $30 per month – more than an entire month of bundled cable. The same goes for many other major networks including AMC. The reason for this is because every cable subscriber won’t be paying the subscription fee to each channel, and therefor to sustain income, individual channels would have to raise their fees per person.

Another argument, however, is that these individual channels would find a way to downsize according to their new audience size. Of course, I couldn’t find a single article on how this would be possible.

As for me, I have no desire for unbundled channels on TV. Although I don’t watch must TV on a television (I usually go to NBC.com or Netflix), I find myself watching a different channel every time I turn on a TV. I know I’m not the only person who does this – I’m not a crazed sports or politics fan, so I really watch TV for different shows – all of which air on different networks. If cable companies completely unbundled their channels and didn’t offer the standard package at the same cost, I would give up cable altogether.

Will political cartoons adapt?

Last week, I attended a lecture hosted by the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy about political cartoons. Kevin Kallaugher, a political cartoonist at The Economist, spoke about his career experiences and what the future might hold for political cartoonists.

Kallaugher began the lecture by asking everyone in the room who knew a political cartoonist to raise his or her hand. There were about 50 people in the lecture hall – only one person raised his hand. Kallaugher then informed us that this wasn’t shocking at all – there are only about 40 paid editorial cartoonists in the U.S. today, while there were about 2,000 employed editorial cartoonists at the beginning of the 20th century.

Part of the reason for this is that newspapers have had to cut editorial cartoonists from the regular staff. It’s rare, or almost impossible, as a political cartoonist to find a long-term paying job at a newspaper. Because of this, political cartoonists are having to adapt in order to remain relevant. The problem with adapting is that it’s not always profitable – while political cartoonists can put their work on the Internet for the world to see, they won’t always make money from this.

In an article from Big Think called “Is the Editorial Cartoonist Dead?” by Bob Duggan, Duggan says this can also open doors for political cartoonists to freely express themselves, as long as they know they won’t always make money. With more political cartoonists working as free agents, they don’t have to follow the rules of editors, and therefor can use their cartoons to express their opinions freely.

Although I recognize the decline of popularity in political cartoons, I hope the political cartooning industry isn’t dying. I’m a prime example of the fact that my generation hardly looks at political cartoons – I hadn’t given them any thought until I attended this lecture. I could, however, see political cartoons making a come back if cartoonists embraced Internet culture and utilized social media.

The good news is that my generation loves pictures. According to a recent Forbes article, people want visuals. Multi-media platforms are growing in popularity, and most people would rather look at pictures or videos on their cell phones than read an entire story.  An Instagram account with nothing but political cartoons? I’d follow it!

Not everyone uses social media?

Most adults use Instagram. Most adults use Twitter. Most adults at least use Facebook.

At least… that’s what you would think as a college student.

I’m connected with all of my friends on some form of social media. Whether it’s all of the three I mentioned above or just one, it’s guaranteed that if I want to connect with someone on a social media platform, I’ll be able to find that person on a social media platform.

Once in a blue moon, I’ll realize one of my friends doesn’t use a certain form of social media. My friend Laura, for example, revealed to me yesterday that she doesn’t have an Instagram account. (How did I not notice this!?) My friend from class, Nick, then said he isn’t on Twitter. (What!?) Based on my reaction to finding out these people weren’t on one specific social media platform, I guess you can see how rare this finding is for me as a college student.

And not only am I a college student – I’m a college journalism student. With the growth of social media as a news and communication platform, social media is a huge part of my curriculum. The idea of not having it seems extinct.

But in the Pew Research Center’s report on Social Media Site Usage in 2014, there were some shocking statistics. For example, 58% of adults in America use Facebook. Barely more than half. This is probably 20% lower than what I would have estimated, considering the fact that almost every person I know has a Facebook.

The statistics that surprised me the most were the numbers for Twitter and Instagram. Only 21% of American adults use Instagram, and 19% use Twitter. Although this still means millions of people use these social media platforms, it means even more people don’t.

I’m beginning to realize that there is a world outside of my hip college town. Perhaps if I visited a more rural community, I would understand where these statistics came from. Or maybe it isn’t about geography – perhaps those not on Twitter and Instagram are simply not smartphone users. Perhaps the wealth divide in the U.S. is the main reason so many people are left behind.

All I know is that if I don’t send out a tweet or upload a picture on Instagram tomorrow, I’m not behind. I’m actually ahead of at least 81% of the adult population.

Watch what you say. #BoycottDolceGabbana

It’s always a good thing to speak your mind – as individuals, we are entitled to unique thoughts and beliefs. But when you’re the voice of a brand, you should know when to shut up.

We’ve seen CEOs make mistakes before. They make an offensive statement, and people boycott their brand. Dan Cathy, for example, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, with his negative stance on gay marriage a few years ago – I still know people who refuse to eat at Chick-fil-A because they disagree with his beliefs. (I strongly disagree with him as well, but I have to admit I’ve pulled through the Chick-fil-A drive-thru a few times in the last year.) Starbucks has even caught some heat recently in response to its “Race Together” campaign.

Fortunately for Chick-fil-A and Starbucks, the opinions of their CEOs haven’t made much impact on sales. Chick-fil-A is a southern chain, and its followers are pretty loyal no matter what. Starbucks is, well… it’s Starbucks.

So when I heard about the #boycottDolceGabbana campaign on Twitter, I didn’t think much of it. Elton John started a boycott of the Italian fashion house when founders Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce spoke out against non-traditional families and in-vitro fertilization. The two men, gay themselves, said it was wrong for gay couples to adopt children, and also referred to IVF as a way to produce synthetic children.

Elton John, father of two IVF-produced children, immediately spoke out on Twitter, and many celebrities followed. The hashtag #boycottDolceGabbana was trending on Twitter soon after John called for the boycott.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 5.50.38 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 5.51.12 PM

I think the D&G scandal is even worse than the Starbucks and Chick-fil-A scandals, and here is why:

D&G, a high-fashion label, has a very specific audience, and the majority of this audience consists of celebrities. Hollywood is made up of liberal millionaires and billionaires who have powerful voices, and are often looked at as voices of the LGBT community. Chick-fil-A’s audience, southerners, already lagged behind on progressive views about gay marriage. And like I said, Starbucks is basically a coffee monopoly. They aren’t going anywhere.

So do I think CEOs should be able to speak their minds about things they care about? Yes. But do I think they need to be smart about who their audience is? Even more yes.

Celebrities have been tweeting about the incident since it happened about a week ago. I’m no Anna Wintour, but I’m pretty sure the D&G statements against gay adoption and IVF will have a huge impact on which celebrities represent the brand. I love D&G designs, but I will never look at the fashion house the same way again.

When Social Media Isn’t Enough

Many social media-users, including myself, tend to think of social media as a magical cure-all in communications. I’ve blogged about it before – how intensely I believe that for a brand to be successful today, they need to have a strong social media presence. But a few weeks ago, I had an experience that made me realize there is still more value in one-on-one communication.

My sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, is hosting its 26th annual Franklin 5k this weekend. For the race, each member of ZTA has to sell 12 shirts. At the beginning of the semester, I wrote eight letters to friends and family who I wanted to invite to the race. The letters took an hour to write, and the whole time I did it I was rolling my eyes because I could have just sent these people an invitation via Facebook, but I figured there was something to be said about putting an active effort into getting people to buy shirts and register for the race.

Out of the eight people I sent letters to, six of them registered for the race. Half of them called me to ask if they could also make a donation. This was awesome – but now I needed to sell six more shirts.

I figured selling six more shirts would be easy if I just made some posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. So I began doing this immediately.

One day, I posted an Instagram promoting the 5k and telling people to sign up for the race or buy a shirt.  This was two weeks ago – and 154 people liked the photo! I then shared the picture on Facebook where it received 20 likes. I just knew by this point that I had reached my goal number of t-shirt sells.

IMG_2291

But when I went to check the spreadsheet to make sure I had sold 12 t-shirts, I realized I had still only sold six. Even though my posts on Instagram and Facebook drew in almost 200 likes, my social media promotions had gotten me nowhere.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 4.06.02 PM

Since then, I’ve resorted to texting and calling individual people to sell shirts. I think there’s something to be said about personal connections in sales – with a product like a promotional t-shirt or a 5k registration, you have to give people a reason to buy it. The reason probably won’t be that they found your Facebook post intriguing.

A New Way To Pay

I haven’t touched a physical dollar bill in months.

Cash is rarely necessary, so I never feel like I need it. Because of this, my friends and I always have running tabs with each other. (They don’t carry cash either.)

I’m behind the curve when it comes to new payment methods, but a few days ago I found out that Facebook is introducing a way to process payments through Facebook Messenger. Since I get on Facebook at least once a day, I know this new feature is going to solve my payback problems.

Apps for paying your friends already exist – I know a few people who use Venmo, an app specifically designed to allow transactions between mobile devices that accepts debit and credit. My issue with Venmo, however, is simply that it’s another app you have to download.

As apps like Snapchat and Facebook slowly turn into do-it-all platforms, it’s becoming inconvenient to sign up for more social networks than necessary. So when I found out about Facebook Messenger’s payment feature, I was sold.

On Facebook Messenger, you will only be able to use debit accounts for security purposes – the benefit of this is that there will be no service charge. The payment feature will be a “$” icon on the bottom right of the chat screen. Say you bought your friend a concert ticket and you’re chatting about it with him right now – he can pay you back immediately so your seats can be next to each other. Convenient, right?

Facebook is brilliant for including this feature. While I don’t believe Facebook is becoming obsolete at all, I’ve heard many people say the opposite. Features like this one will keep people coming back to Facebook for a long time. It only makes sense that Facebook, where we can already chat with friends, create conversations, groups, events and timelines, would allow us to pay our friends as well.

And to those of you who are afraid of trusting Facebook with your debit card information, have no fear. Facebook has been handling payment transactions for games and advertisements since 2007 and their track record looks great.

Facebook is planning to make the payment feature available to the U.S. in a few months – so get ready to close out your tabs with your pals for good!

You could live on the border of a digital divide.

In 2015, it’s hard to imagine life without the Internet – especially for those of us who use the Internet on a daily basis for socializing, studying and even working. But according to Mashable, only 71% of Americans subscribe to broadband Internet at home. In other words, millions of people in America don’t use the Internet. See this shocking infographic.

This was shocking to me because I know I couldn’t go to school or do anything I like to do without the Internet. How do these people apply to jobs or colleges? How do they get directions to unfamiliar places or find out about anything!?

The truth is, most of the people in the U.S. without Internet access don’t go to school and have low-paying jobs. It’s an unfortunate cycle that keeps lower-income Americans from getting Internet access, and keeps people without Internet access from getting higher incomes. Internet is expensive in America – more expensive than other first-world countries – and this leaves people in rural or poor areas behind.

School districts around the country are also effected by the lack of Internet access in these areas. In Jacksonville, North Carolina (hometown represent…), Digital Millennium Consulting did a study where they gave high school students smartphones with special software to help them with algebra. At the end of the year, students who used the smart phones to help them with algebra did 25% better on end-of-year tests than students who were not given the smart phones. None of the students used outside Internet help for the purposes of the experiment.

The digital divide leaves so many people behind, and the majority of us forget who is and is not on the Internet. To think that people from my hometown go without Internet but also go to the same schools me and my friends went to is insane. Having Internet access gives people an advantage automatically – I wonder who the honors students would have been if everyone had Internet access.

The order of things.

Something that we don’t often think about is the order with which we build connections with people. Most of us are connected with our closest friends on all of the main social media platforms – Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn – depending on which ones they have, of course. Most of us also know where our friends live, their phone numbers, and their email addresses. But which of these connections comes first?

It seems logical that we would meet a person, become their friend, get their phone number, and eventually build an online relationship with them. But social media is now equally as essential to our communication patterns as a cell phone number, so this order often shifts.

I think it’s safe to say that for most people, Facebook has become the place where we have the most connections. I’m not saying these are the most intimate connections we have – just the greatest in quantity. For example, I have 1,925 friends on Facebook (kind of embarrassing), but I have 730 contacts in my phone. This means I’ve become “friends” with at least 1,195 people on Facebook whose phone numbers I don’t even have.

Instagram is becoming a high contender as well. I’ve noticed this semester that people I meet in my classes follow me on Instagram before we even exchange phone numbers. This is perhaps because Instagram is a visual social network where there is little communication involved. Once the user posts a picture, other users can simply “like” the photo as a way of communicating their feelings about it. While Instagram does allow comments, it isn’t assumed that everyone who likes your photo will comment on it. Therefor, following a person on Instagram is casual. We like casual.

Snapchat is, in my opinion, the most intimate social network. I’ve even heard people say “are you guys on Snapchat level?” meaning “are you guys close enough to be Snapchatting?”

This has become less of this case with the invention of Snapchat “stories,” because these have the same effect as Instagram posts and don’t require much communication. But for now, most of us only add our closest friends on Snapchat. These are the friends we also might text or see in person (gasp) on the regular. I have less than 80 contacts on Snapchat – this compared to my 1,925 friends on Facebook and my 730 cell phone contacts.

Twitter is, for me, one of the last ways I connect with people. I follow all of my friends on Twitter, but I also use Twitter to follow news organizations and companies. Unless someone seeks to follow me on Twitter, I most likely won’t make the effort to find them. This is true for a lot of my friends as well – Twitter is becoming more of a news source.

As strange as this sounds, I think phone numbers are sometimes the last bit of contact information we exchange with our peers. Social media has made it easy to indirectly communicate with people, and phone numbers are only necessary to communicate with your closest friends (if you’re into constant communication) or for emergencies and the occasional phone call (a phone call is an instance of speaking to someone on the phone or attempting to contact someone by phone, just incase anyone forgot).

I’m intrigued by the order with which we communicate because I think it has a huge impact on how we build relationships. Are our relationships more superficial now since we can depend on Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch using visuals and one-to-many communication channels?

Tinder love and care.

Tinder is slowly taking over the world.

Because of the exponential growth of technology, my generation has never experienced the old-fashioned dating ways our parents swear once existed. A boy won’t call you to ask you out anymore – he’ll get your number from a friend and text you to see if you’re going out. That, or you’ll match with him on Tinder.

Apps like Tinder are growing in popularity and making this hands-off approach to dating and communication even more common. Everyone knows someone who uses it, and most people have experienced “swiping right” or “swiping left” on a picture on a phone screen. Most people, though, myself included, think of Tinder as the kind of app people use for entertainment around college campuses. But recently, Tinder has made appearances in unexpected places.

I first had this thought when I was watching MTV this past weekend. A commercial aired featuring various celebrities “swiping left” on Tinder when they saw pictures of a person smoking. The ad then stated that Tinder users without cigarettes in their photos get about double the matches smokers get. This commercial impressed me because it targeted people my age with an app marketers know most of us are familiar with. If my parents watched that commercial, they probably wouldn’t understand it, but that doesn’t matter. My generation is made up of people who are deciding right now whether or not to smoke cigarettes – a decision that could affect us for the rest of our lives.

A few days after seeing this commercial, a New York Times tweet caught my eye. I followed the link to an article, and it stated that at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, this past weekend, Tinder usage in the New Harbor, Maryland area spiked by 202% during the days of the conference. This data came from Tinder.

It’s shocking how popular this simple dating app has become among people my age. The fact that it’s being used as a tool to promote health nationally goes to show how secure the app’s popularity is. It also shows how powerful apps can be, even when they are just talked about.

Making and saving memories

This afternoon, I was sitting on the couch with some of my sorority sisters looking through old scrapbooks girls had made in the past. The scrapbooks had pictures of cocktail parties, bid days, mixers with fraternities, service events, and any other sorority function you could imagine. We all sat for an hour looking through the scrapbooks and realized the most recent book looked like it was from the early 2000’s.

We all wondered the same thing: “Why don’t we make these anymore?”

My first thought was that we don’t value sentiment as much as the generation before us did. It was obvious in the pages of the scrapbooks that these girls treasured the memories they made with each other at each event – enough to make an entire scrapbook about it. But the truth is, we no longer feel the need to put work into things like photo albums and scrapbooks because we know we can easily store the even more images on Facebook or on our phones. The sentimentality isn’t gone, just expressed in a different way.

I was pleased to find out that the reading we were assigned in my Current Issues in Mass Media class happened to expand on this. In an article in The Atlantic, Chau Tu writes about technologies we use today to store memories and how our brains process memories differently because of this. Tu discussed research that showed the more we photograph events (or Tweet about them, etc.) the less we actually store in our memory because we are “outsourcing” the memory instead.

I agree with this, and the way we store these memories now increases the amount of outsourcing we do.

Back in 1998 when the girls in Zeta Tau Alpha were making their photo albums of events, they were most likely gluing all 30 of the pictures they took at the event onto the pages of the book. These pictures were probably taken by different people, with a camera, and not run through filters or posted to Instagram/Snapchat throughout the night.

Now, the way we store these memories is completely different. At a service event, for example, every girl would have her phone out taking pictures every few minutes. Not only would most of us take pictures, but we would also spend a few minutes each posting them on social media. We would actively update our Snapchat stories too, and by the end of the event, the entire day could be pieced together by scrolling through our feeds.

According to the research in Tu’s article, we would be outsourcing all of the memories we made that day. Chances are, weeks later, we would remember fewer specific moments of this day than if we had put the phones down and simply enjoyed the experience.