December 22, 2005
New Media Deal – a comment
A user calling him or herself “graciouswings” (who left a bogus email address with his/her comment, so I couldn’t email him/her) made a lengthy comment to my New Media Deal posting (posting here, comment at the bottom or here).
The meat of the comment was:
“advertising doesn’t bug us if it’s not too intrusive and if there’s something in it for us as consumers.” This is simply not true. This notion is based on unfair playing grounds. People don’t like seeing commercials before movies. People _are_ bugged by having to create an account at every website they visit, whether it’s to post a comment, purchase a song, ask a question of tech support, read the news, or get their local weather info — agreeing to the privacy statement by the by. People don’t read the privacy statements. People aren’t given a choice, other than to simply not use the service. People have no choice but to watch those ads in the theater — in spite of having paid a day’s salary for their family to watch the movie — because, if they didn’t, they’d have to be late and get bad seats in the theater. And if you think that not using services or receiving diminished services is a choice, you’re lying to yourself. It’s discrimination.
I’m struggling to come up with a definition of discrimination that fits graciouswings’ argument, since discrimination means “treatment based on class or category rather than individual merit; or partiality or prejudice.” All consumers are treated equally with respect to advertising, as far as I can tell.
And although it’s only one data point, I do have an interesting anedcote that gets of the core of this argument. When I was running marketing for MovieFone (777-FILM) back in the 1990s, we ran a survey of our own customers and asked them which they would prefer: continuing to use the MovieFone service with its 20-second uninterruptible movie advertisement at the beginning of every call; or have MovieFone become an ad-free service on a 900-number at a cost of $0.25 per call to the caller. The results were *overwhelming* that consumers would rather listen to the ad than pay a quarter for the convenience of the service. And this isn’t an ad that consumers could skip or flip past like a print ad. I suspect if we ran a poll asking people if they’d rather pay $3.00 for a copy of the New York Times or pay $1.00 and have a bunch of ads in it, they’d respond the same way.
But maybe consumers are different when it comes to the New Media Deal. Maybe they would rather pay for services than get them for free in exchange for some of their personal data. I suspect if that was the case, some entrepreneur (perhaps graciouswings) would make a fortune developing paid, ad-free versions of most major web services that would attract some meaningful portion of consumers under a different model. But seems to me that the body of empirical evidence is proving otherwise.