Monday, August 19, 2013

Speed Channel dies amongst the roar of broadcasting mediocrity

Heard about Fox Sports 1?  You'd be forgiven if you could care less about the latest entry into the sports network wars.  These days it seems sports programming is little more than background noise for all but the rabid faithful at the local sports bar. 

But there's no denying it's a lucrative business with exclusive subscriptions from the likes of the NFL, NASCAR and even the PGA demanding hundreds of dollars per year just for the privilege of watching. 

Even if you could care less about anyone's "Season Pass" you still end up paying for sports programming.  It's common knowledge that the most basic of cable and satellite charges are comprised at least in part of fees paid to channels you may never watch like ESPN.

 If you're paying $35 a month for cable or satellite you can bet at least $5 of it is going to ESPN  (a Disney property.)   It's become the catalyst for a growing movement of  "cord-cutters"  fed up with ever increasing costs for programming they don't want. 

It's a movement I'll soon be joining myself and the final straw was Fox's decision to take on  ESPN by converting its Fuel and Speed channels to a more ESPN-like sports network.  More than just a name change Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 promise the same kind of sports grab bag that subscribers are already paying too much for with ESPN. 

There are few channels I take an active interest in on Cable or Satellite anymore.  Now that one of them  has fallen prey to Fox network's arrogance it's hard to justify paying a large portion of my monthly bill for content I have no use for.

In Broadcasting, trying to be everything to everyone is the definition of appointment viewing.  It forces viewers to suffer through programming they don't want just for the opportunity to see shows they may actually be interested in.  

Sadly, it's often a burnt offering as niche programming is forced to conform to a lineup built on the hopes of capturing the widest arc of viewership.  It assumes a fan of NFL football is also a fan of NASCAR or extreme sports.  A foolish assumption when viewed in the context of the popularity of those exclusive subscriptions mentioned earlier. 

It's a model proven obsolete by  the success of services like Netflix and on-demand programming options.  It's also proving increasingly unsustainable as ESPN appears to be losing market share not to other traditional media competitors but rather to the Internet and exclusive sports programming  packages offered by Satellite and cable.

I remember Speed channel back when it was called SpeedVision and before it became a Fox property in 2002.  Those were the golden years for the channel long before Fox flooded the schedule with NASCAR programming and AMA supercross.  There were Howto shows, coverage of racing events and lifestyle programming that appealed to the gearhead in me. 

I actually credit the channel for reigniting my interest in the automotive hobby and enjoyed the slightly quirky but always interesting shows like Chop, Cut Rebuild, Dream Car Garage and Lost Drive-In.  Later, shows like Gearz and Barrett-Jackson Car search (based on the auction) offered a respite from the incessant Fox NASCAR programming.

My initial exposure to the channel came late in 1998 while flipping through the menus on my then new satellite receiver and stopping on a strange sight.  There was Carroll Shelby sitting next to a Blue Dodge Dakota specially prepared by his shop.  A very HSN looking bar ran down the left side of the screen showing the truck's features.  At the time they were asking $45,000.   I thought I'd stumbled across some millionaire's version of the Home Shopping Network.  Shortly thereafter the annual Barrett-Jackson automobile auction was broadcast live from Scottsdale and became the catalyst for my subsequent and frequent visits to the channel.

 Fox's acquisition in 2001 and schedule domination with NASCAR and related programming slowly eroded the channel's viewership.  Instead of classic car-themed movies of the Lost Drive In viewers were assaulted with re-runs of NASCAR and motorcycle races.  SpeedVision, now Speed, had ceased being a lifestyle channel and was slowly moving towards a motorsports-only version of ESPN with "personality" driven programming a la' CNN.

There was less and less reason to spend too much time there.  Even longtime standards like the Barrett Jackson Auctions became polluted by the Fox influence.  Commentators well versed in their subject were forced to share the stage with pinup-girl types while dumbing down content seemingly aimed at adolescent males.

In the last two years of the network's life, to watch a Speed Channel broadcast of an automotive event became an exercise in aggravation.  Doubly so if you happened to be a female who didn't enjoy your intelligence being insulted by Fox's outdated stereotype of the Ideal woman.  

The acquisition of the channel by Fox was the beginning of the end as the network exerted ever more influence over its schedule.  Crowding it with programming  catering to the lowest common denominator of automotive content.

August 17th brought the final blow as Mike Joy provided the channel's epitaph...

“We love that you care as much about your cars as family, God and country. And so do we. but now it’s time to switch off the ignition and turn in the keys. This is the end of Speed in America...“

"...So now, it’s goodnight and farewell to America’s motorsports authority. Speed.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Social Media is a lie

Social Media is a lie

There, I said it and you know damned well that it's true.  Popular culture has adopted the premise of social media being the new normal.  That's what people mean when they overuse the term "ubiquitous" by the way.

We're told to carefully curate our Facebook pages and polish our LinkedIn profiles to ensure that we're giving the "right" impression to any drive-by onlookers who may take a passing interest.  I mean we wouldn't want to send the wrong message would we?

Prospective employers love social media.  It's a quick and dirty way to get the goods on candidates without ever having to meet them.  In other words your social media persona might as well be another copy of your resume, dating profile and background report all in one neat multimedia package.

So best be sure it's showing you in your best light...Which defeats the purpose.

Knowing that almost everyone engaged in social media is either lying or too naive to realize the ramifications of that video from your last trip to Vegas means none of it has value.

The only people who are honest are the ones with nothing to lose which is exactly .000000001%.  Good luck finding that needle in the haystack and when you do try not to be disappointed when you find out those people aren't that interesting.

Social media is less about connecting than providing a mechanism for personal advertisement.  Which means it's about as useful as a commercial for a feminine hygiene product. 

Social media is just an outgrowth of a society built on lies.  We choose political candidates based on which one's empty promises we're most aligned with.  We associate with people that otherwise would never get the  time of day if we think they can be of use to us.  We go along with the popular groupthink for fear of repercussion should we speak our own minds.

Keep social media in the context of a public facing mask and you'll stay out of trouble.  Ignore the starry eyed optimists proclaiming how connected the world is because of it.  It's not, if you live in Nebraska the chances that you actually care about anything going on in Uzbekistan are negligible.  So long as there's that strong "media" component in social media (meaning it's fake) it's nothing more than personal marketing of a false image.

In short, keeping it real does not include being a social media maven.  Reality has nothing to do with it at all.

The scarlet letter of entrepreneurship

See if this scenario fits.

You spend years working in the corporate world, learn a few things and one day you decide you've had  enough and strike out on your own.  Perhaps you're tired of being passed over for promotion or you just know you're capable of more than the middling opportunities that come your way.

Maybe you're motivated by one too many late night infomercials but whatever the reason you finally make the commitment and say goodbye forever to your cubicle.

Or so you thought...

Striking out on your own rarely affords instant gratification and tests your resolve on a daily basis.  You have your freedom but the list of things you don't have sometimes make you wish you would have stayed in your nice warm cubicle. 

As time goes on there's one of two things that will happen.  You'll be a success and never look back or you won't and you'll be looking to get back to that cubicle.  Thing is the latter may not be an option for you.

In today's job market with employers demanding more from their employees than ever before a candidate with an entrepreneurial background has an uphill battle.   Why?  Well, in case it hasn't jumped out at you yet, an ex-employee turned lone wolf offers a management challenge few supervisors want to tackle.

A free thinking self-motivated rebel may be the ideal employee for Google or Facebook (or at least it used to be) but ABC corp. doesn't want the hassle.  They just want their employees to follow the rules, not take too long on their breaks and get those TPS reports in on time.

Sadly, more often than not Interviews can be more of a test of wills than a friendly conversation.  A lifelong corporate type will be naturally suspicious of a candidate who once threw off the reigns.  After all if it wasn't good enough for you before why would it be now?

That will be the only question on their mind by the way.  Some may even vocalize it.

Conversely, an interviewer that secretly harbors a wish to flee his own corporate prison may see the candidate's abandonment of their own cherished dream as a personal failure.  From there it goes downhill since no matter what skills are professed, the failure to capitalize on them invalidates all your grandiose assertions to the contrary.   

If the interview is with a potential employer in the same line of business as the candidates former solo effort, chances are the interview is less about the job and more about getting the goods on the "competition." 
Interviewing someone viewed as a competitor (and that's how they see you) brings all the baggage of the standard interview plus the perceived risk that you'll somehow steal all their customers and strike out on your own if they hired you. 

From a business standpoint it's a safety play.  After all, how likely is it that Steve Jobs would have hired Bill Gates? 

You're not being interviewed, you're being pumped for information.  Once they get it they're done with you.  I've often felt like I should send an invoice at the end of one of those.

In these days of drug testing, background screening and credit checks just to get to the interview table how can anyone possibly overcome the stigma of a being a risky candidate?

I wish it were simple but the only way to overcome the objection is to minimize the experience.  It's a rage-filled, sucker punch to the gut but it's often the only way. 

It's maddening to have to undervalue your accomplishments but I'd put better odds on a winning lottery ticket than getting in front of a potential employer that sees your solo efforts in the same light you do.

You have two choices at this point. Suck it up as they say, swallow your pride and pad your resume with "regular" jobs that show you're a good member of the corporate denizen.  A regular job can be contract work, temporary jobs or anything BUT working for yourself.

Your other choice?  Sell the extra car, take out a few loans and keep trying to make it on your own. 
You'll either finally figure out how to be successful or go broke and be out of work so long that you won't have a work history anyone will care hearing about anymore.  Perfect for when you go for that sweet gig at the convenience store or fast food joint.

I'm not trying to be flippant, this is reality 101 in the job market now.  Threats to the status quo can come from as little as showing up to the interview with too loud a tie to the "wrong" work history. 

Fair is a relative term when you're looking for work.  Employers are demanding guarantees from candidates that they would never subject themselves to.   Your solo accomplishments exist in a context far less certain than your cubicle dwelling competition.  A fact most hiring managers are unable or unwilling to accept. 

Forewarned is forearmed.  You'll waste a lot less time and aggravation if you know the score going in.