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Once again the new season of Breaking Bad has, so far, prove that the writing and plot lines from Vince Gilligan and company continue to be brilliant and captivating. This is television drama at its best!

In many ways it’s a shame that AMC is the cable channel that hosts this intriguing series about the intricate dealings of an odd pair of meth cooks who stumble into chaos and amazingly find ingenious ways out. As characters, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman have flourished beyond anyone’s expectations. To look back at the first two season’s and compare how the character arcs for these two exceptional lead characters and their supporting cast have developed is truly a work of genius. Despite the commercials and the inability to swear, include sex and nudity or graphic violence, the Breaking Bad writers have used these constraints to build intense story lines and exceptional dialog that negates the need for such R rated material.

The cold openings are a prime example of what Gilligan and his writing crew have specialized in and the most recent episode, “Madrigal”, is no exception. By opening the door to this “multifaceted manufacturing, construction and shipping concern headquartered in Hanover, Germany”, Gilligan has added a new dimension to Walter and Jesse’s future dealings with Hank and the DEA. Very intriguing indeed!

[Episode 2 – in the cold opening, Madrigal’s fast food operations executive,     Peter Schuler, sets up the intrigue for future plot twists.]

The real issue with being on AMC are the commercial breaks that intrude on the flow of the action. Fast forwarding through the ads becomes a nuisance and forces the viewer to momentarily disengage from the all-consuming action. Unlike HBO’s The Wire , which was equally well written and created by David Simon, Breaking Bad is limited by these constraints which leads one to think just how much more incredible the series could be if it had been picked up by Showtime or HBO. Each episode often demands a second or third viewing in order to fully appreciate the plot subtleties, superb acting and the seemingly innocuous sets where everything in the camera’s view may have some meaning or future purpose.

Reality TV for Dummies?

The other bizarre issue this season has been the pairing up of Breaking Bad with AMC’s new Small Town Security, which is a reality show about the day-to-day happenings at a dim-witted security firm, known as JJK Security, based in Ringgold, Georgia. How an audience that has become so accustomed to the sophistication and plot complexities of Breaking Bad could possibly be interested in this latest offering of a Lowest Common Denominator reality TV show is odd at best and just plain pathetic at its worst. Even some of the comments listed on AMC’s own website include gems like this. “I think we have now hit the bottom of the reality tv barrel. Sad. Just sad.”

AMC has scored big hits with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and kudos to them for hiring productions with such great writers and superb casts to make these shows the successful icons they’ve become in popular culture; but are viewers being short changed by not having these shows on the next tier in cable where the stories can flow seamlessly for an hour and without having to be promotional vehicles to gather audiences for the next throw-away TV show? It really is too bad, but again, the writers for Breaking Bad have obviously found a winning formula for getting around the constraints of commercial breaks and content limitations, it’s only the viewer who is left with the knowledge of wondering if the series could have been that much more of a satisfying experience.

http://youtu.be/ROGSaP8MSSQ

 

The other day I was reading  David Frum’s column “The challenge for cable news” where he stated the following:

“Things move fast in the modern world, so let’s cut straight to the point: Cable TV is no longer the place where news breaks, and has not been so for years. Social media have done to cable TV news what cable news, in its day, did to the afternoon editions of big-city papers: shouldered aside its slower and less adaptable predecessor.”

This morning I woke up and took out my iPad and perused the online news feeds and immediately saw the unfolding gunman shootout events in New York City. I checked Twitter and found the hashtag’s #ESB and #EmpireStateBuilding and from there was quickly filled in with the details of the tragedy as they came in. After about an hour I saw that Mayor Bloomberg was to hold a news conference so it was only then that I turned on the TV and clicked on DirecTV’s news directory channel where I could scan CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CNBC, FBN for their ongoing coverage. What I saw was pretty lame.

The news outlets were still far behind what was being communicated on Twitter and were also lacking in any real reporting of the facts as they came forth. CNN was by far the worst in its coverage as Ashley Banfield tried to sum up the tragedy with a number of stupid comments about the iconic Empire State Building and other inane information.

As I continued to monitor the Twitter feed and checked out the links the story became clearer. Once Mayor Bloomberg had his news briefing (seen live on YouTube), Twitter was following along with the facts as he and his police commissioner briefed the throngs of media.

Later, CNN couldn’t even get the facts straight regarding the gunman’s sequence of events. They said that perpetrator, Jeffrey Johnson, was 56 (initially reported by police as being 53 but later corrected by the NY Times as 58) and that “he will not be prosecuted for murder.” Really? A comment on Twitter made fun of the statement with the line “Thanks Captain Obvious.”

To be fair, Twitter also contained many comments that were either inaccurate or outright false, but the majority of comments continued to be updated and had the correct information. This, along with photos, onsite witness accounts and links to video footage made social media a far better choice to learn about the unfolding events. 

What the cable media outlets were missing most of all was true reporting where their reporters would gather facts and check their sources while ensuring accuracy before being communicated over the air. Instead of being first on the scene and getting it wrong, or worse, reporting from the studio with a litany of irrelevant and inane comments just to fill air time, the cable news outfits should understand that the public using Twitter, Storify and Instagram will get now always get the scoop. The traditional media, including cable news, now has the job of getting the facts straight, reporting with accuracy and giving the story context. As Frum states in his piece, “Cable should skip fancy effects, go deep and long in reports, [and] find new relevance.”  Instead, cable news organizations tend to fill the air with their so-called “experts” and other pundits wishing to express opinions as opposed to employing actual journalists that will dig deeper and provide facts and pertinent information.

From what Bloomberg and Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the perpetrator, Jeffrey Johnson, fatally shot his former boss at point-blank range five times in front of his former workplace, Hazan Import Corporation on West 33rd Street. The shooter then walked eastbound towards the visitor entrance of the Empire State Building on 5th Avenue and was followed by a construction worker who then informed two police officers that were in a van guarding the Empire State Building as part of the ongoing counter terrorism security. After informing the officers, they then approached  Johnson who immediately pulled his .45 caliber handgun from a bag and pointed it at the officers. The officers then shot a total of 16 rounds killing Johnson while also wounding nine bystanders (fortunately with non-life threatening injuries) during the confrontation.

These were the basic facts of the tragic event as told by Bloomberg and the police commissioner which I then checked by finding the details about the Hazan Import Co. address, reviewing eye-witness accounts and by further follow-up with the New York Times and New York Post.  Why CNN and other cable news outlets couldn’t seem to master the duties of basic reporting during the first two hours after the incident is only part of the reason why they are becoming less significant as credible news sources. Finally, the irony was not lost on me that Frum’s article was posted on CNN. You’d think they’d get the message.

From the uprising and liberation of countries in the Middle East to the heart wrenching earthquake / tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, the role of social media and mobile technology has become inextricably woven into our daily lives. The tipping point came in mid-2007 when social media really started to take off while at the same time smart phones exploded onto the scene. For marketers, tapping into this new “engaged audience” has been a windfall for some while problematic and baffling for others.

The key is to step back from traditional marketing principles by being helpful, genuine and offering a worthy experience while allowing the consumer to generate the buzz.

Social media’s appeal has stemmed from the fact that it is user-generated content that can be both personal and broad based. When social media was embraced by huge numbers of online individuals and communities it occurred so fast that even today many businesses are still trying to figure out what to do. Those businesses that recognized the true potential of social media quickly understood that by offering worthy content, valuable insight and being accommodating have resulted in creating loyal customer communities.

As we now know, the success of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have fulfilled a need for meaningful connections. And it’s no accident that the popularity of the smart phone and its numerous apps have accelerated this change. People are now connected 24/7 and can do everything from choosing where to eat, to buying books, insurance and music, to playing Angry Birds and just about everything else. It has been an evolutionary process where the best ideas, services, apps and businesses have survived and flourished while those that haven’t measured up have been discarded and largely forgotten.

Users have All the Power

For businesses still trying to figure out how to navigate and succeed in this environment they must accept the fact that first and foremost social media is a ground up medium. Users have all the power.

As Jamie Monberg stated in Fast Company, “today’s consumers are stingier with their brand loyalty than in the past because they can afford to be: they are burdened only by an abundance of choice and knowledge.” To enter this arena wisely is to provide a genuine experience and/or credible content that users will embrace and gladly promote. Being overtly commercial is a sure path to being discredited.

Monberg makes this point exactly. “Today, any brand has a potential army of credible, unpaid spokespeople that are willing to work on its behalf. And this army is the exact same group of people who are willing to work against it.”

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It’s not surprising that more and more professionals and small businesses are working remotely. From the home office to local coffee shops, airports, hotels and beyond, today’s mobile technology has allowed for routine day-to-day business and even making big deals to occur where ever there is WiFi, some java and a comfortable seat.

In a recent Fast Company article the dilemma faced by StarbucksPanera Bread and other WiFi enabled coffee shops and restaurants is that more and more professionals are plunking down for hours on end and essentially setting up their office to conduct business four to five days a week. According to the FC article, “seventeen million to 26 million people work remotely at least some of the time depending on how you calculate it. And the figure will only swell as companies look to cut costs and workers increasingly eschew desktop computers for mobile technology.”

What used to be the sole domain of aspiring students and freelance creatives is now being shared by sales people, accountants and professionals of all stripes either working individually or meeting in groups – all with theiriPads or laptops plugged in and connected to everywhere.

The “out-of-office work environment” is also, in many cases, losing the bricks and mortar of the traditional office  space all together. In the realm of advertising and marketing agencies, cloud advertising is starting to become more and more common as clients are looking to save and agencies are now able to provide great service and marketing solutions without the added costs of infrastructure and overhead. SCIENCE CREATIVE is a prime example of this new successful business model.

We see the trend continuing as long as clients are receiving great service, competitive pricing and of course superior results. It will also be a must for coffee shops to cater to this growing business crowd by offering special deals, more outlets and greater convenience in order to create a loyal following of regulars.

This article is also on the SCIENCE CREATIVE blog site.

There are many things that come to mind when the subject of Quick Service Restaurants (aka QSR/Fast Food) comes up. Over the past fifty years the proliferation of QSR locations have flooded the landscape to the point where it has changed our eating habits, our expectations for low price and convenience and of course the way we grow and process our food. These days, the business is as competitive as ever and QSR competitors are searching for new ways to attract and retain customers while others are  trying to deal with ever changing management structure.

When I worked for McDonald’s Corporation as a Regional Marketing Supervisor, in addition to being in the field, I attended Hamburger University and learned a lot about how McDonald’s ran its massive business and was duly impressed with its simple business strategy of owning the land and leasing it to Owner Operators and then charging a rent fee based on the restaurant sales figures. It was a great learning experience to be immersed in corporate America and to be a part of the inner workings of one of the countries most recognized symbols of capitalism. It gave me a unique perspective to view both the positive and negative sides of the QSR business and to focus on what works and avoid what is detrimental to the business, the consumer and the environment.

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Update: 06/14/10

USA Today weighs in “At CNN, perhaps a little, um, creativity is in order.”

Here is a great example of why CNN is losing viewers at such a rapid rate. Comparing YouTube videos of Justin Bieber and a prairie dog? Really? This has to be some of the lamest content on a news channel ever – which in my opinion is precisely why CNN has dropped off the ratings chart. Just awful.

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There have been a few recent articles in the NY Times and The Independent that discussed the recent “precipitous decline in ratings” for CNN and its prime time programs. On the other hand FOX News has been increasing viewers at an exponential rate. The folks at Newsy also have a short video on the subject.

My question is where are all the CNN viewers going? Certainly not all of these viewers are switching to FOX? My personal view of CNN is that it has become a shell of its former illustrious self as THE cable news outlet.

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