4 mins read

Media needs to work smarter; not stupider.

Charles Benaiah describes how “there is no vomit in Narnia” and puts forward an intriguing thesis on media advertising along with a few choice quotes from the odd media luminary or two. As usual, he doesn’t mince his words. Buckle up, it’s lemon sherbet time.

There’s an old joke — um… Bill Gates and Bob Iger are at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, and one of ‘em says, “The content in most places is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and the margins are so small.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about media these days — full of crappy content, waste, suffering, and it’s all over much too quickly.


Years ago, David Carey (then President of Hearst), told me, “We throw away 100 stories for every story we publish. For every picture you see, there are thousands you don’t.” Granted, this was only a few years into the Internet and Hearst still made most of its money the old fashioned way. They printed it.

But he didn’t say it the way I imagine Bertie Botts’s CFO started morning meetings, “Folks, we just can’t keep making beans in flavors people don’t want. It’s wasteful. For every one sherbet lemon people actually like, we make, like, a hundred vomit beans that we can’t move. We have to be smart and productive. This isn’t Narnia.”

For a long time, we had few places to spend our attention. So, we squandered it on newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, websites, and apps. Because we just showed up, they had no idea what we liked. So, they wasted gobs of resources spewing vomitous content. Fortunately (for them), advertisers overpaid for tiny slices of our attentive moments.

I’m being very serious when I say… it’s all pretty stupid. They analyze our socials to figure out what we might like. They pay people to produce what they believe we will like. They fixate on the shards of their data to learn what we did like.

Poppycock and inferences.

So, Facebook shows up and says the quiet part out loud, “Tell us what you like.” Their genius… putting a pathetic thumbs up button after every tiny post. Once you told them what you liked, they knew what you liked.

Inferences be damned. And, waste along with it.

Facebook doesn’t waste your time putting things in front of you they *think* you may like. There’s no vomit-flavored beans in their Narnia. It’s all lemon sherbet. Sure, once in a while, they may toss a new flavor at you, but it’s unlikely to be awful.

On February 4th, Facebook turned twenty. It’s almost old enough to drink. We stopped sharing baby pictures of it with our friends on Instagram a long time ago. Liking things isn’t an innovation anymore. Media needs something new.

Why rely on kindness of likes when you can borrow a page from Samsung’s charitable playbook. Five years ago, Samsung had an idea. Just pay people to watch ads.

They made the Samsung Global Goals app. You scroll through ads. That’s it. There’s no content — vomitous or otherwise. The more you scroll, the more you bank. When you hit milestones, you donate your bank to a charity of your choice. The app has half-a-billion downloads. Billion. With a, “B.”

This week, Google took a step in that same general direction. They’re going to let you pay a tiny bit when you, “Interact with a publisher’s content.” Blah. I don’t want to pay with my time and definitely don’t want to pay with my money.

It’s time we cut to the damn chase. What’s good for good can be good for business. We need an app that just pays us to watch ads.

Let’s say a brand will pay a media company 1¢ to show me an ad. It would take me about 2 minutes to scroll through 100 ads. That’s a dollar for the media company. In an hour they’d make $30. Minimum wage is $7.25. If they pay me that, they’ll clear $22.75.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Would an advertiser pay me to watch their ad? It seems to violate some unspoken legacy social contract. First, I think a few brands might. Then, a few more will. But, there’s are two hidden benefits here.

One, as my man, Danny Weisman pointed out a few weeks ago, the best reason to run ads on Twitter is not to get engagement, but to get feedback on the ads. This ad-app could get feedback. There’s no content. Just ads. Put a like button on the ads to see which ones people like. Test A and B ads. Test deployment times. See which ads get shared.

The second benefit goes all the way back to that joke that got things rolling. “The content in most places is really terrible.” This ain’t worse. “Yeah, I know; and the margins are so small.” Making $22.75 on $30 of revenue is amazing.

There, I fixed media for you.

Dear Leadership at Allen & Co., please send me an invite to Sun Vally c/o unCharles.

Charles Benaiah is the CEO of Watzan, a techy company for medical media. When he’s not running a media company, he reads about media, thinks about it, pull out what’s left of his hair dealing with it, and, then, he writes about it over on unCharles. Charles is a member of Media Makers Meet – Mx3 Collectif.