In recent weeks both Slate and The New York Times have decided that I need more of their content and have plans to invite me to pay for it. Slate wants $5 a month and the Grey Lady has her hand out
for $10 a month. In exchange, they are offering enticements such as members-only live chats, ad-free podcasts, compilations of past articles on a single topic -- and worst of all, "fascinating
behind-the-scenes accounts" of the big stories they're covering. Really?
Despite being widely considered one of the best TV shows of all time, The Wire's creator David Simon doesn't believe HBO would have kept the show if he had pitched it today due to the industry's deeper knowledge on audience metrics. "I'm not sure if the Wire could survive now," the former Baltimore Sun journalist admitted during Tribecca Film Festival’s Story by Numbers panel on Thursday. "HBO will be the first to say we only have (so many) hours to program for drama if the show is dragging wind, even if it is a show that critics say you should watch because of X, Y and Z." Simon joined House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, numbers wiz Nate Silver and film journalist Anne Thompson on stage to discuss how stats have influenced the entertainment and news media worlds during the Future of Film talk, which is part of Tribeca Innovation Week. The Takeway radio host John Hockenberry moderated the panel. While epic storytelling about Baltimore's drug and gang underbelly may have nurtured a critical darling, it notoriously had poor Nielsen ratings during its five-year run. Simon said the additional data on who exactly is watching and where they are consuming the media has made networks more conscious about their metrics and more conservative about their decisions. "HBO said we’re never giving away content, but just yesterday (they signed the Amazon deal). Chord cutting is real. It costs money to make content on a different level," Simon elucidated. The writer explained his current struggles with a new series he is developing with Ed Burns about the history of the CIA. While HBO forked over $24 million to let him make The Wire, he believes it won't buy his new project because of how it thinks it will perform. "They're looking at plausible revenue streams, downloads," he pointed out. Both show creators shared a high five over the idea that knowing metrics on their shows could only hinder the creative process. Willimon admitted that Netflix won't share how well or poorly House of Cards is doing. However, he said he sneeks peeks at the one to two star reviews of his show. "Not as a form of self-punishment," he explained, "but to look at a very impressive sampling of what people don’t like." For example, Simon found that many people were angered that he killed a dog in the first 30 seconds of the series and refused to watch House of Cards thereafter. Those viewers he could let go of because they were never "meant to watch the show." However, opinions on what was unclear on the show were constructive feedback. "You're servicing the story," Simon said about being a writer. "You bring a world on. You feel responsible to the character, and if you look over your shoulder and say the character wants more Omar, more Stringer, that's why TV was a juvenile medium for the most part." However, data could be useful for journalistic endeavors, The Wire creator remarked. On that note, Silver said it helps 538 decide what content does well on their website. He's discovered that stories that are very timely or not timely at all (meaning there has been a long distance from the event that allows for perspective) are popular. Everything else—for example, a larger story pegged to a recent event—falls in between. But, Simon also warned about relying too much on audience stats or else everything would be about "porn and blowing [expletive] up." He admitted that if he was asked to adapt a Web video that had 75 million views into a TV series, he would decline. "Get me out of there," he exclaimed.
UPDATE: A Meredith spokesperson has confirmed that while Ladies’ Home Journal will be ending its run as a monthly magazine, the brand will live on as a quarterly, newsstand-only publication with “a robust digital presence” this fall. (Meredith took a similar tactic with its Country Home magazine, which transitioned from a monthly to a special interest publication back in 2009, and is now, per the company, a profitable brand.) The entire current Ladies’ Home Journal staff, including its editor, Sally Lee, has been laid off. Meredith’s special interest media group in Des Moines will oversee the new quarterly title.According to the spokesperson, the magazine’s shuttering as a monthly was not due to lack of consumer interest, but the tough advertising environment. “You’ve got a women’s lifestyle field that has expanded from the original Seven Sisters to a much broader field competing for limited ad dollars,” the spokesperson said, adding, “When we looked at our brands, Ladies’ Home Journal unfortunately had a higher median age than other titles in that field.”The magazine’s July issue will be its last. Current subscribers will receive another Meredith title in its place.AARP Media editorial director Myrna Blyth, who was editor in chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal from 1981 until 2002, called the magazine’s folding “very sad.” “A great American publishing institution is basically gone,” she said. “I don’t think the Journal has been supported for these last years to help it do as well as it could, so I’m not surprised…It didn’t the attention it should have gotten.” Much of that lack of attention, she surmised, was due to the magazine’s largely Baby Boomer audience. “The Boomers are the magazine readers of America, but I think that sometimes magazines try to run away from their readers,” she said. “And advertisers are still not accepting the fact that the Boomers remain the largest demo, the richest demo, the most supportive demo. “Hollywood is making more movies for older demos because they realize that; it’s amazing that print magazines don’t want to recognize something that’s apparent to the movie industry,” she added. Still, it’s not all bad news for Blythe: “Let me put it this way,” she said. “I will be happy if the Journal readers become members or readers of AARP, and I’ll also be happy to take the Journal’s advertising, because we certainly have readers that want to see that advertising.” Another one of the Seven Sisters may have bitten the dust. According to a report on Gawker, Meredith is shuttering Ladies’ Home Journal. A source told Gawker that the magazine’s New York staff was informed of the news this morning and that layoffs are planned. The magazine’s health editor Julie Bain also announced the closure of the magazine on Facebook today, according to a source. Interestingly, the 131-year-old magazine hasn’t been doing any worse than its competitors in the women’s service category. In the second half of 2013, its circulation was flat at about 3.2 million, per the Alliance for Audited Media, making it the fifth-biggest women’s service title behind Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle and Woman’s Day. Single-copy sales were actually strong during the period, rising 4 percent—a feat in the current newsstand environment. The magazine wasn’t doing quite as well on the advertising front. Ad pages fell 22 percent in the first quarter of 2014, according to PIB. However, all of the magazine’s main competitors had similar numbers for the quarter (and, in fact, fellow Meredith titles Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle and More all fared worse). Calls to Meredith for comment have not been returned.
The Direct Marketing Association, one of the advertising and marketing industry groups at the center of the debate over big data, privacy, and the policies and regulations that should be adopted, has announced new leadership. Tom Benton was named interim CEO and COO and Jane Berzan was named interim president. The duo succeeds Linda Woolley, who has served as president and CEO since Jan. 2013. For the past 18 months, Benton was DMA's COO, credited with developing the group's strategic plan. Throughout his career, he's held a number of positions in the direct response marketing industry, including a stint as svp of marketing analysis for America Online. Berzan joined the DMA at the beginning of the year as svp of programs, marketing and events.