Ad Version Therapy
Now to business... There seems to be much bub and hubbub about technology and advertising, so we'll examine that today. There is a device called a TiVo that is allowing folks to record their favorite shows onto an internal hard-drive with no fuss and no muss, and save you TONS on video-tapes, since you don't use them. Further, it will grab shows that it thinks you MIGHT like, based on the shows you tell it to get. Convenience? Nah, I usually decide what shows I might like by deciding to watch them myself, and if I do like them THEN comes the decision to tape them... But I digress. Whatever I would have spent on videotapes is certainly less that the $9.95 a month these guys ask for, and that's not including the $499 to get the machine... We're looking at it taking about eleven years to pay for itself, and I wouldn't even have the hardcopies of the episodes to show for it. No thanks.
Now, the thing is, the latest iterations of this device are capable of knowing what part of the broadcast is commercials, and what part program - even reportedly able to record your fave show commercial-free for when you get around to watching it... Kinda like having a friend of yours tape it for you, without any actual friends... Heh.
That’s what seems to bother the hell out of a lot of people, notably Michael Eisner and a pile of advertising agencies. The idea is that we’re supposed to sit there while the commercials run to justify the TV producers charging the sponsors out the wazoo for time during your favorite show to hawk their wares. Apparently, this is seen as having us, the little people, 'do our part' to keep our favorite shows on the air (and the stars of same paid well enough that they don't split for greener pastures), and anything that could upset this delicate exchange is seen by this lot as plain cheating. Riiiight, Michael fucking Eisner is gonna tell US what's ethical. It is to laugh.
Bluntly, this is NOT an issue. The show is still recieved by the household and it registers with the Neilson as such - which is the real justifier of these multi-million dollar thirty second spots, and if the guy at home doesn't want to sit through the commercials on what is essentially his own taped copy, that's his business. That Eisner and these others are trying to pull a pre-emptive strike on this technology for just possibly, SOMEDAY allowing these other multi-billion dollar companies to say, 'I dunno, that's a lot to ask for a thirty second spot some folks won't even see...' is such ridiculous bullshit that it's not even funny. Then again, we're talking about the guy that shut down ABC and Disney because he didn't think the cable companies were paying him enough tribute money.
So I asked myself, what the flock is the big deal? Countless sociological, psychological and consumer studies show that commercials and other advertising mean absolutely jack-squat when Molly goes to market, since Molly is gonna buy what she always buys 99% of the time and the other 1% being her trying something new when she has a coupon or it's on sale. The only people that think advertising makes a whit of difference to your buying habits are people that SELL ADVERTISING. They manage to convince these big businesses that they'll go down the toilet without 'brand-recognition' that can only be gotten by spending millions of dollars to produce commercials, and additional millions of dollars to have it shown when someone might be watching... That it's a load of hooey to anyone with two brain cells to rub together notwithstanding, big business didn't get big by not covering their bases, so they play along to keep the economy going...
Now folks, it can be logically surmised that I'm not a fan of commercials. This is not so. Many times I've seen commercials that entertained me more than the SHOW. I have nothing against commercials. It's part of the economy, and I say that if you can shovel bullshit well enough to convince some big conglomerate that they'll go bust if they don't pay you to make a commercial then God bless you. My real issue with them is that there's just too much of it flying around. For example, in a half-hour slot you get about 3 minutes of intro and end credits, 13-16 minutes of show and the rest is ads. That's ridiculous. No wonder so many new shows are at least an hour long... The writers need the extra time to actually tell a story!
What I have an issue with, gentle reader, is not advertising; but rather advertising without restraint. Infomercials. Spam. Pop-ups. Pop-unders. Flash. Window-spawners. A whole goddamn paradigm built on getting into your face and saying 'Lookitmee!' whether you like it or not. That's rude, intrusive, and not likely to EVER convince me to buy so much as a fucking NEWSPAPER from you, and you should already have sense enough to know it.
Should being the key word...
I don't really have anything against Bonzi, personally... I'm sure that there's a lot of people out there that have a need for a purple gorilla to talk to them. I'm not one of these people, however, and the purple fuzzball still can't get that through his peanut-shaped head. So there I am, happily navigating through cyber-space, and up jumps Bonzi telling me how great it would be to have someone like him around all the time... I give a shudder at that odious thought, and close the window to continue to where I was going - and up he jumps again. And again. And again. And again...
Let me explain... If someone was selling something to me at my door and showed a similar unwillingness to just go the fuck away he'd get his goddamn legs broke - and no jury on earth would convict me.
That said, I realize that the people that sell website space charge more if you happen to be popular, and this money has to come from somewhere if you don't actually have it. So most webmasters shop themselves out to advertisers much like the TV execs, and barter their 'popularity' into a supposed cash grant to help with costs. Now people, I don't mind commercials much on TV, as I've said, because these objects are not intrusive and some of them are genuinely entertaining. The thing that separates these from their online brethren is that I am not FORCED to view these. I can go make a sandwich, take a leak, change the channel, or whatever and come back to what I wanted to see when the chatter subsides. In short, I have the option to totally ignore the commercials if I don't want to see them. This is accepted because, truth be told, they're coming into my house and what I do there is my business.
Wrap your puzzler around these rhetoricals, won't you? Do you think as many people would watch '60 Minutes', for example, if there was a tape loop playing in the background telling us all about Joe's Special of the Day the whole time Mike Wallace was talking? Do you think 'Friends' would be as popular as it is if, say, a fifth of the screen was running ads for Joe's Diner the whole time? Do you think 'Survivor' would have half the audience it enjoys if a large block appeared over the goings-on with 'Eat at Joe's' every twenty seconds?
More to the point, how popular do you think Joe's Diner would be?
I would have included some of the popular shows on the esteemed Mr. Eisner's ABC, but I didn't know of any... Heh.
So, considering that these practices are pretty much abhorrent to consider having happen on TV, why do we tolerate it from web-based entertainment? Even stranger, why is it that the websites of multi-billion dollar conglomerates have just as many - if not more - advertisements as the average Jack Webman trying to pay his host for 'bandwidth'? Are we to understand that the multi-billion dollar corporation didn't figure bandwidth into the BUDGET? Why do I see more ads on AOL's member pages than on Yahoo's? Why do I see advertisements on Sony's or Microsoft's sites, PERIOD?
Come to think of it, what does it cost to serve up a web site? At the most expensive, you can get a dedicated server hooked up for between $700-$1200 a month, or you can just get a T1/T3 and serve it up yourself for $600-$800 a month to the phone company - plus the costs of buying and setting up the server ($600-$2200). This, of course, assumes you're planning on getting a LOT of traffic and that you want to give these people multi-megabyte files like mp3s or video... Generally, even superpopular homegrown sites top out well before the higher end of bandwidth - in truth, the most expensive package I saw offered 60GB of monthly transfers, which is an awful lot for anything that ISN'T warez, porno, video or mp3s, and pretty generous for even those purposes. I'm sure higher end packages exist - possibly even the mythical 'Unlimited' here and there, but you have to be REALLY popular for that kind of stuff, and I'll digress...
To be frank, assuming you needed all that for ANY purpose is just ludicrous. Many people do fine with 'free' websites, and the ads that traipse across aren't intensely intrusive. A banner here, a popup when you leave... This isn't so bad. What IS, in my opinion, are the sites that spew ads on top of ads at every click. This seems to be the opinion of many, many others as well, which is readily apparent by the loads of people getting what are called 'ad-blocker' applications to just try and see the website they went to in the first place without being bombarded by X10 Cameras, porno and fucking Bonzi.
The New Arms Race
This, of course, doesn't sit well with the advertisers; many of them withholding their kickbacks to the webmasters because people aren't looking at their ads anymore. Intensely few people ever followed the links to these sponsors, mind, but what mattered was that they SAW the damn things... So, what's a guy to do to protect his revenue source?
Enter the Anti-Ad-Blocker...
Yes, folks, now the thing is that you won't even be allowed to see your favorite sites anymore if you're running an ad blocker. Of course, the Ad-Blocker people update their software with every new anti-blocker, and the dance continues. Suddenly, I find myself updating ANOTHER program every few days and I still get bombarded with fucking BONZI.
The bottom line is that we 'little people' don't really enter into the equation one iota... That's what irritates me more than anything else. Never mind that it's YOUR fucking computer that has to download two-thousand of these mini-webpages... Never mind that they clutter up YOUR hard drive. Never mind how many times you've been startled out of your skin by some Flash animation blaring noise at you while you were quietly going about your business. You have a DUTY to these webmasters to keep them in business, and you'd better do your part!
No, clearly not.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of these loopy 'everything should be free' dopes. Far from it. However, if I go visit you at your house once a month, do you plan on charging me a portion of the RENT? How far do you think you'd get? How often do you think anyone will visit once you try it? Folks, there's this site I used to go to for news on videogames, and now they want me to pay to get the same news I was getting there for free - and can still get for free elsewhere. Care to guess how often I've been back? Go on... It's easy... Heh.
A Matter of Perspective
Simply put, if you have a hobby and you make a website about it, that's fine. It's considered having fun, even... If alot of people crush over and you're suddenly trying to figure out how to scare up the funds for the $400 bandwidth bill, then it's simply not a hobby anymore...
It's a job.
Hell, as much as I enjoy ripping into my annoyances here, you'd see alot less of it if I ever woke up and thought I had to. As much as I enjoy insipid 80's cartoons, I will NEVER enjoy them enough to make them my JOB. As much as I enjoy videogames, I will never enjoy them enough to make them my JOB. Can you imagine what that would do to my RESUME'? Yoik.
Don't misunderstand. I don't find fault with anyone that does do this. I always believed that if you can make something you enjoy to do pay, then God bless you. In fact, I enjoy my own trade and frequently marvel that I get paid money to have as much fun as I do with it. Of course, the money helps me justify my doing it on the days when it ISN'T so enjoyable; but like I always say, "If it was fun all the time I'd probably have to pay them..."
Let's take this another step... I used to play online fantasy sports and RPGs with other folks, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I even went so far as to run a few of them myself... However, when it got to the point I was spending much of my time trying to keep up with everything going on, and struggling to maintain a level of quality in it when I was being bombarded on all sides by people grousing about this and that I still didn't do like they wanted...?
In short, when I wasn't enjoying it anymore, do you know what I did?
I stopped doing it.
You know what else? It didn't kill me, the people I was doing it with/for, or the internet...
This is a lesson in humility many webmasters need, and few can bring themselves to realize. I suppose it's somewhat due to the lofty title of 'webmaster' that gets slapped onto anyone that puts up a page... Y'know, as much as I loved Wrestlecrap and as much as it broke my heart when R.D. Reynolds decided to close it down, I respected him for doing it and I still respect him and wish him well in his life... It was a good run and the stuff of legends where a guy gets a glowing column about him in a magazine run by the people he's making fun of, and that's a memory I cherish and thank 'the Deal' for officially herein...
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people that have convinced both themselves and the usual band of hangers-on such creatures attract that they're so important to whatever 'scene' they're part of that the whole of it would fall apart if they ever packed it in. There are people that think I owe them something because I hit Ctrl+D and drop by every so often to see if anything's new.
These are the people that I'd personally like to give a good shoe in the ass.
I realize that you think you're doing me a favor, kid, but the truth is that running the place is YOUR job as long as YOU want it. If you think you're truly such hot shit, then try charging people to get in. I dare you. I'll wager that your bandwidth bills will go down a ton, and you'll finally see how 'important' you really are right quick. But I digress...
So, folks, if you're running a website (or doing anything else for 'fun') and you reach the point where you have to ask yourself if it's all worth it? Take it from your old pal, Bobo: It's not.
You're welcome... See you SOON.