July, 2007 Vol. 6 No. 11


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For several months, the marketing department at Disney have been in a fingernail biting frenzy. This summer is another one of those corporate milestone moments that can either breed success or dread. This year's ulcer attack is the next big budget Disney animation feature, Ratatouille.

The pressure on Disney is that this is the first film from the merged Pixar Animation Studios. So great was the purchase, Disney has disbanded its own animation division. So the pressure on Pixar-Disney is to hit a home run.

But then the marketing folks got down to the brass tacks: how to market a movie about a sewer rat that wants to cook gourmet food. Health departments across the country will cringe at the thought of rats in restaurant kitchens. It is not a pleasant image to overcome.

But this Disney. This is fantasy. This is animation. This is not real.

When first learning of this inner tension within Disney, a casual observer would remark, what is the big deal? It's just a movie. Right. It is just a movie.

But in the Disney world, the summer feature can either make or break the year's revenue. It can rise or tank the corporate stock price. It can make or break careers in fickle Hollywood.

But you would say, hey, Disney's marketing has been genius for a generation. With all the cross promotional channels Disney-ABC owns, there should be no problem pushing an audience into the theaters. But worry has lead to publicists down playing the expected total revenue for this film.


They are not even looking for a $50 million opening weekend take. They are not projecting a $100 million total book. They are pegging the movie as the least profitable of all the previous Pixar pictures. Let the headscratching begin. It is most interesting to read about the woes of the Disney marketing department about this feature. For some reason, they cannot get a firm grasp around how to effectively market this Pixar product to the mass audience. Which is very, very strange considering that the entire Disney empire was built upon a mouse! Mickey Mouse! Is there that much difference between a mouse and a rat? The inside story about how Disney's marketing department green lights projects, and why Pixar's latest was made outside the Mouse realm is a struggle between divisions of the company.

During ABC's Saturday night feature, Finding Nemo, most of the commercial airtime was self-promoting the movie with comments from the actors, director, producers and voice over talent. Much of the promotion had little to do with the storyline; much of it had to do with the technical brilliance, lighting and animation of the wizards at Pixar. So at this late date, Disney still had not found its movie message. You would think it would be easy: Pixar is the gold standard for American animation. But just the name Pixar on a feature does not have the same punch since there has been so many competitors flooding the market in the past decade. Disney also put out a 9 minute trailer for the movie in an attempt to generate buzz. Nine minutes is a long trailer.

Hollywood was once a risk-reward, high stakes business model. But with the Wall Street corporate mentality, and the erosion of entertainment dominance, studios are cutting back and getting conservative. The whole concept of grinding out sequel after sequel is that conservatively, you already have a box office history of the story and actors that you can bank on. But sequels get compared with the prequels which are usually better than the sequels which leaves a hole in the after market revenue streams (rental, DVD, soundtrack, merchandise etc.) The secondary revenue streams, and product placement are the cash cows for studios who want to shift the risk away from reliance on the box office to drive other revenue streams.

So Disney will have a cow about promoting a film with a hard name to pronounce, that stars a rat who wants to prepare food, that throws back to the slapstick routines of the silent movie era.

There are dozens of new animation features in the theater or video stores. Family friendly video has been trending upward so the field has become quite crowded. Disney is no longer the prime source for this material. It may not be used to fighting tooth and nail for every consumer dollar. That is why they overspent to acquire Pixar in the first place; to keep that premiere animation studio out of the hands of one of their competitors.

But this movie is the first litmus test of how good is the Disney-Pixar marriage. Can the different business cultures co-exist to create a growing legacy of first rate entertainment? So far, there has been no indication that the merger has gone perfectly.

On the other side of coin, Fox has sprinkled short movie trailers for its first Simpsons movie. If you look closely, the last trailer is basically a greatest hits clip show. The storyline is nonexistent. The tease is that Homer has to save the world from something he started. Pretty vague. So there is no real expectation other than the curiosity of how a 20 minute television show can be extended to a full 2 hour run time and keep its comic edge. It is one of those things that people have invested a great deal of time over the decades. The Simpsons brand loyalty will draw people into the theaters.












Inspired by the world being on the verge of the wide world of professional video gamers,

there will be the same kind of professional sports weird craziness, like prima donna players and strange pro agents.

And the with the term, Rapter, we defer to the Japanese anime spelling just to be difficult/different.







A Louisville Journal-Courier sportswriter was kicked out an NCAA regional baseball game. His policy violation was that he was writing a real time blog of the game and posting it to his newspaper's web site.

For those of you who have never been credentialed, an host has the right to limit access to its event. When you buy a ticket to see a show, a baseball game, or a play, you are buying a license to watch the program. In sporting events, newspapers, radio and television reporters get press passes to cover the games for their publications. The event organizer gives press credentials for free as a way of marketing their team. (Some newspapers have internal policies against taking such free viewing; the newspaper buys a season ticket even though their sportswriter is sitting in the press box. It is viewed as an attempt to maintain some objectivity in covering the event.) On the back of the ticket, there are restrictions on your conduct during the event. If you violate any rules, become a nuisance, or interfere with the game, you are subject to ejection. So the bottom line at sporting events, the patrons and the press have no absolute right to be in the park.

Now teams sell the broadcast rights to their games as a revenue stream beyond in-person ticket sales. For a professional team, these rights fees generate millions of dollars to the team. For colleges, broadcast rights are a growing source of revenue, too. The traditional broadcast rights were television and radio. Those forms of media, though in competition, were compatible. The print media covered the games for publication the next day, which normally included player-coach quotes and analysis. So each form of media had found its own role to play in reporting on a sporting event.

If you go to the way-back machine, sportswriters in the press box took notes and kept a box score of the game. Then they would either call an editor at their paper and read them their story, or they would go back to the office and manually type the story on realms of paper. Call this the Deadline USA black and white ink era.

As technology advanced, the reporters in the press box evolved. Bulky portable computers with telephone cradles made their way into the press room. A reporter would type his story into his machine, then connect to his office through an antique snail modem. The equipment was hard and the connections fuzzy. Call this the Indiana Jones and Deadline Temple of Doom era.

Computers became fast laptops. Reporters can take their office with them. They can easily type their game story paragraphs as the game unfolds in front of them. They could easily send their story to their office via email where the sports editor could open, edit and send the copy to the press. The time frame of getting the news to the publisher had been dramatically reduced which meant that late night game stories could be put in the morning paper. Call this the Speed Racer era.

Now technology has come to a quicker conclusion. One can eliminate the sports editor and the printing press. A sportswriter can type in his running game story into blog software program and upload it instantaneously to the web. The texting of the game story in near real time is what has caused the commotion in the press box.

In the NCAA baseball regional finals case, the sportswriter was blogging the actual game into cyberspace. The NCAA took offense: texting descriptions of the game action is the same as broadcasting the game action on radio or television. The reporter was told to stop blogging. He refused so he was escorted from the grounds. End of blogging the game. The publisher had a fit; its reporting was at the game covering it for its readers. It did not matter that his game story was being published quicker than a regular physical newsprint copy. A sports column is a sports column.

Except when the NCAA had sold the internet broadcast rights to its games. The firms that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to put the game descriptions onto their web sites in a near real time fashion did not want local, free competition. This boot was purely a business decision. The NCAA sold exclusive Internet rights packages. Those rights owners were upset that the NCAA would allow a local reporter to undermine their web turf. So the marketing department and accountants flexed their muscle to reclaim the web space for the NCAA licensees.

It does show the tightrope conflicts that will continue to emerge with blogging events. If a public university is playing a game, using taxpayer dollars to support the program, then a journalist could argue that the First Amendment check and balance on government activities allows the journalist to cover the event and publish his story in any manner he so chooses, free of government censorship or interference. However, if the event is a private enterprise, like a professional baseball game, the same First Amendment argument would fail because the Constitution was drafted to protect people from government action, not private interaction.












In the cultural cesspool of tabloid media, the Paris Hilton going to jail story may be the biggest non-story event since the local village painted its water tower. She is constantly in the news as being one the biggest non-celebrity celebrities on the planet. Whoever made her into the rabid photog gossip world's favorite wild child should be drawn and quartered at Hollywood and Vine. Even when South Park brutally conveys her stupidity, “ritch” spoiled and her mindless personality, no one seems to care. You can be a celebrity for doing nothing. You can be a celebrity for bad behavior. You then can be paid for being a know-nothing bad non-celebrity.

The tabloid media must ride its blonde beast into the ground to get a return on its investment. It made Anna Nicole Smith the quasi-American Princess Diana for no apparent reason. A drug zombie golddigger fighting over a rich, dead old man's estate is not the subject of a television bidding war for access right fees and 24/7 coverage of her demise. There is less activity with a pack of starving hyenas jumping the carcass of a water buffalo.

Then the stories broke that both ABC and NBC were competing to pay for the first Paris post-jail interview. In journalism circles, paying for a story is taboo. It is against the rules. It is dirty. ABC allegedly offered Paris $100,000 to sit down for a chat. NBC allegedly countered in the million dollar range. Now, either figure is an outrageous sum for an interview with a do-nothing, braindead, airhead millionaire heiress. But the media is now controlled by marketing and non-journalism entertainment producers who are willing to bend-break the rules in order to hype an exclusive interview. Celebrities have been breast fed millions for wedding photographs, the first baby pictures, ect. Now non-celebrities want to get into this yellow journalism pay-to-play. The television producers back away from the charge of buying the interview; but do not deny that they would spend huge sums of money for a source's “access” or pay a license fee to show “film or images” of a celebrity for their newstalk show. It is the same thing as buying a source, buying a story, and prostituting yourself to an alleged newsmaker's own agenda.

And celebrities are commanding more and more control of all aspects of media coverage. Angelina Jolie sent the press a contract that had to be signed before she would grant any interviews about her next movie project, which ironically was about the killing of an American reporter. All traditional journalism outlets were outraged and appalled by the limitations and demand to sign a contract and release form that they refused to interview Jolie. (Which has backfired on the movie production company as her film bombed during the first week of release). Public relations firms are hired to get the best publicity possible for their clients. But when clients get out of control with their own self-absorbed view of themselves, there is no spin doctor with enough energy to stop the rotation of the earth for damage control.

Hopefully, the cycle a celebrity, quasi-celebrity and non-celebrity public media spotlight at any cost television will die a quick and painful death in the ratings.







Inspired by the souls being lost in the sink holes of cyberspace, comic commentary cyberbarf style.






The 2008 Presidential Race got off to such an early start no one has been paying attention. Until recently, when a low budget political PR firm decided to put out its own YouTube inspired music video/promo called I HAVE A CRUSH ON OBAMA.

It features a buxom model fawning over images of Democratic candidate Barack Obama. This was an independent production, filmed in a day. The model was an actress who was paid to play the part of the political groupie. Afterward, she was quoted as saying that she had no idea who she would vote for in the election; to her it was just another job. It received millions of hits on the Internet because of its spice.

This is another entry in the political world's loss of campaign control. National politicians are anal-retentive about their images. They demand to control all aspects of their public persona. They have final cut on any commercial. They believe they are the most important thing since sliced bread, and they know the best way to sell themselves to the American toast eating public.

But independent producers have the means and free distribution channels to muck up any highly orchestrated election campaign. A married senator being fawned over by a groupie is not the best image of a presidential candidate. But that is what the Obama camp has to deal with this video. (No wonder Mrs. Obama left her cushy university job to be on the campaign trail with her husband. Insert favorite Temptations song here.)

Then you have a candidate like Hillary Clinton who tries to be hip but the message backfires. Hillary spoofed the last episode of the Sopranos to hype her official campaign theme song. She sits in the diner, then hubby Bill walks in for some small talk. There is a sinister guy at the counter that gives her the evil eye; then before she can announce the winning song, the campaign spot goes black. A lame SNL skit for most people. But if you look at the message being sent, Hillary is affiliating herself with organized crime (the Sopranos was a mob show). Is there truth in advertising rules at play here? Also the song she chose, was last played as the theme for the sinking Titanic movie!

Trying to be funny when one has no sense of humor is a dangerous thing. A politician with no understanding of the cultural references alluded to in her campaign ad is a headscratching thing. So the Obama camp has a problem with independent video producers showing buxom woman fawning over the candidate which sends an odd message to the general voter. And Hillary's camp has a self-created problem of the message of spoofing a crime show being associated with criminal elements and running into an iceberg ending. Your opponent does not have to run attack ads when your friends and own campaign are doing it to you.







The Sultanate of Clintonia-Rogstaden

The global on-line gaming experience has quietly exploded into a a bandwidth python of multi-hour, multi-kingdom game spheres. Whether it is the team combat arena, or the total simulated fantasy genre, more and more men and women are using their free time to escape to a virtual world. As a result of our tech guru's prodding suggestion, cyberbarf.com has created Sultanate of Clintonia-Rogstaden. Readers will have a running update of the status of this virtual country; get the backstories outside the game's program. For example, check out the images of the national currency. There will be inside jokes, satire, humor and pulse of a real bizarre country. New features will be added on a regular basis. So check out the cyber-soap opera of nation building here at cyberbarf.com.

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