How Tablets are Changing TV Viewing

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When Apple released the iPad about two and half years ago, many industry pundits scoffed at the product, not sure how it would fit among their customers' established usage of phones and laptops. The iPad was a success, however, and over 100 million units have been sold since its introduction. This has led to competitors producing a variety of competing products with similar functionality. This device can be used in a variety of different contexts, but one popular one is while watching TV. A study from the media research group Nielsen found that 88% of tablet owners use their device while watching TV. This has the potential to impact both programming and advertising by threatening the traditional way that consumers watch TV. It also has created an unprecedented opportunity for advertisers and producers to innovate and connect with consumers on a whole new dynamic, interactive level.
One of the impacts that tablet usage during TV viewing is causing is an inattention to commercials. When a commercial comes on, the consumer can simply switch to his tablet and start browsing the web or checking email. A tablet is much handier than a laptop because it is more suited to quick tasks like these, it is more portable, and the battery life is longer. This makes commercials less effective because the TV viewer's attention is elsewhere.

There is much innovation that can combine the power of the big television screen with the interactive smaller screen of the tablet. DirectTV already offers an iOS iPad app that allows users to get more information about what they're watching as well as to more easily select a new program to watch from on-demand content or channels. Nintendo's newly released video game console the Wii U has a feature entitled TVii. The Wii U comes with a controller that has a large screen on it, essentially like a tablet. The TVii program runs on this controller tablet and allows the user to select a program to watch from online streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video or their cable network. The program is then shown on the big screen TV. Users can also look up more information about a program as well as comment on the programs they are watching on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Microsoft is also getting into the ring with their SmartGlass application. This allows a user to use a tablet to enhance games they play or content they watch on the Microsoft Xbox 360 video game console.

So what does this increased interactivity mean for advertisers or producers? For advertisers it means that they can produce interactive advertisements. A car company could produce a commercial that not only plays on the TV but also sends a 3D, rotatable model of the car to the tablet. The consumer can use his finger to drag and rotate the car around and get a better sense of it. It can provide a link to the company's website so the consumer can get more information about it. The consumer could even choose to share the ad on Facebook or like the company's page. This still does not prevent the consumer from switching to a different app on their tablet when commercials come on but if they find the interactive features engaging, they may be less likely to do so. A producer could use this increased interactivity to make their content more engaging as well. The application could display additional information about the show such as a map of where the filming took place, behind the scenes information, or character information. It could give fans the ability to communicate with each other and discuss the show or share fan-created content. One of the things I find useful about the online streaming service Hulu is to read comments from other users about what they thought of the episode. Just as it helps to discuss a book in English class with other classmates, a show gains additional value when other users' thoughts are shared. The ability to connect with social networks helps producers to take advantage of free, word-of-mouth advertising. If a viewer likes a particular show and shares it on Facebook, maybe his or her friends will also start watching. Facebook currently has Spotify integration so that when users are listening to streaming music with Spotify it updates their profile with the name of the song to which they are listening. This could be easily extended with TV viewing, updating the user's profile with the current program they are watching.

It is important for both advertisers and producers to be aware of consumers' trends in tablet usage during TV viewing. By offering additional value that takes advantage of the second screen and internet-connectedness found in a tablet, producers and advertisers can make their content more engaging. It remains to be seen if consumers will adapt such innovation, however, or simply ignore it, preferring instead to keep TV viewing to a familiar mindless, passive experience.

The rise of Instagram-style advertisements

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The weekend after Thanksgiving my Facebook feed was inundated with photos of the food my friends had enjoyed over the holiday. These photos were uploaded with Instagram, an application that takes photos, confines them to a square shape reminiscent of old Polaroid instant cameras, and applies an optional filter effect. This app has become quite popular, enough so that Facebook paid $1 billion for the company. Another website, Pinterest, features posts from users of various clothing, food, and decorating techniques just to name a few. What effect is this trend having on the advertising industry?

The first area of advertising that this trend is affecting is that of social media advertising. Many companies have pages for their brand or products. Customers can like these pages showing they are a fan of the product or brand. Companies can then post new images and content to their pages to promote their products. Companies will probably be more likely to post a photo in the style of Instragram that looks like it was taken with an amateur photographer instead of a professional photographer. Consumers will be more likely to respond well to these photos since they are using Facebook and are more familiar with that style of photography. It makes the product seem more real and relatable. Also, these images may be mixed in the consumer's feed with other content from their friends and so blending in with the other content is essential to ensuring that the consumer does not simply ignore the advertisement. By making the image seem less like an advertisement, consumers will also be more likely to share the image with their friends, increasing the effectiveness of the advertisement.

Now the second area of advertising that may be affected by this trend is advertising that uses still images that are not on Facebook. For example, advertisements on billboards, bus stops or magazines all use still imagery to promote a message. Do consumers react similar to advertisements shown in this way as they do to advertisements on Facebook or Pinterest? I feel like an advertisement that is just an Instagram-style photo may not do well in these formats. It may be difficult for the consumer to determine what product is being advertised, since these formats do not have the benefit of providing a heading or a link to the company's website to get more information about the product. What may be effective, however, is a collage of Instagram-style photos along with some text and description of the product. This gives the consumer an idea that regular people like and use the product because the image is in a style they frequently see their friends post yet they can also get more information directly from the advertisement. It also depends on the product. For example, food or clothing affords these Instagram-style photos whereas highly technical products such as a phone or a car may be better suited to crisp, professionally detailed photos.

It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues to shape advertising. Ads with celebrities and professionally-shot photos will continue to exist, but companies may find that creating ads with more amateur-style photos may better connect with their consumers. These ads can instantly give a product a more social feel instead of corporate coldness. However, they do sacrifice some detail and may prevent the consumer from forming a solid connection between the product and the brand.

Fremium games: a good concept, if done right

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Imagine you are a developer of a mobile game. You can either sell it for $0.99 or make it free and offer in-app purchases of game-related items. Which do you do? Well making it free will lead to a lot more downloads of the game. Even if the percentage of users who make purchases is small, their payments will add up to a lot more than charging for the game upfront. This monetization strategy is known as "freemium" and is employed by countless mobile games. Many popular games have switched from an upfront cost to offering in-app purchases.

What are some of the pros of this model? To begin with, it lets users try out a game with no cost to them. This increases the user base of the game and can help it spread in popularity as more and more users download the game for free. For the developers, it lets them receive additional payments over time. Developers can add content later and charge for it, instead of having to create a game with all of the cotent upfront that they charge for. In addition, it allows for old games to bring in more revenue. Take Team Fortress 2, for example, a game that recently went free to play. It originally was in the $60 range and slowly fell to $10 over time as it aged and people were no longer willing to pay the high price. The developers made the game free and created hats that players can buy for their in-game characters to wear. In addition, players of the game can create their own items to sell in the in-game store and receive a percentage of sales. In my opinion this is by far the best application of the freemium concept to a game. The developers did not take any of the functionality away from free players and those players who do decide to play get a purely cosmetic change and do not have an advantage.

There are many cons of the freemium model. For one, some games allow paying players to gain an unfair advantage over free players by selling advanced weapons or power-ups that unbalances the game. This can discourage free users from playing leading to lower popularity and fewer purchases. In addition, in-app purchases can remove some of the reward of solving a difficult challenge. Many games charge for hints or level-skips that have the player reaching for their wallet instead of persisting with the challenge and overcoming it. In addition some freemium models are used to artificially lengthen a short game. For example, many games have a notion of "energy" that let the player only play for 5 to 10 minutes before having to pay for additional energy. Instead of doing this, games should have an incentive for players to return to the game tomorrow. For example, Farmville was very successful in this as users have to return to check their crops the next day.

Freemium games are here to stay. Developers need to make sure that they strike a careful balance between encouraging in-app purchases and aggravating the user. Aggravated users will just move on to a different game whereas engaged users may end up spending quite a bit of money. I don't have a problem with freemium games as long as users who don't wish to pay can have arguably just as good of an experience as those who do.

Bond movies have been a part of American culture since the early 1960s. Each of these movies has had a distinctive title song that most often becomes a part of pop culture. "Diamonds are Forever" and "Goldfinger" are two popular Bond songs sung by Shirley Bassey while "Live and Let Die" sung by Paul McCartney and "For Your Eyes Only" sung by Sheena Eason have been nominated for Academy Awards. With the most recent Bond movie, "Skyfall", released on November 9th, Grammy-award-winner Adele sings the eponymous title song. The song has a minor chord progression, grand instrumentation, and a strong vocal performance by Adele. I personally found the lyrics to be a bit lacking with their repetitive use of the word "skyfall" but still found it enjoyable to listen to.

The interesting thing is how this song became popular. It was produced as advertising for the movie, as evidenced by the lyrics and the fact that the song came out on October 5th, about a month before the movie. I heard it on the radio several times, and each time it would come on, the radio announcer would say something to the effect of "Here's the song for the new James Bond movie." Did the song become popular because of the quality of the song or because the movie producers paid to have it played? It's important to think of the role of the media companies here.

Perhaps instead since Bond songs are such a part of our culture, the "Skyfall" song was played often on the radio because it was part of that tradition. The song's popularity may also be helped by Adele, as this was her first single release since her wildly-successful "21" album. The constant advertising of the movie, though, either before or after the song airs, makes me think that there is some kind of corporate propellant here. Popular culture does get talked about on the radio, though, since it is such a pervasive part of our lives so maybe it was talked about just to connect with listeners on some kind of common basis. It will be interesting to see how often the song gets played in the future, now that the movie has been released.

Saturday Night Live: A Show with a Liberal Leaning

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The funny monologue of Louis C.K. and a parody of his FX show with him as President Lincoln aside, the true spectacle of the Saturday Night Live episode that aired this past weekend was its poking fun at conservatives. The first evidence of this was the "Fox & Friends" segment that blasted Fox News with anchors that were incompetent yet pretty looking. At the end of the segment a list of "corrections" scrolled across the screen, connecting the news channel to inaccurate journalism and hasty reporting. The second piece of evidence was a bit during Weekend Update where Jason Sudeikis played presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney. His apparent out-of-touchness with women and his comment that he doesn't really know why he's running for president were bashed pretty heavily. Noticeably absent was an actor playing Barack Obama, especially in an episode right before Election Day.

I found the show to be funny, but I am more of an independent, without particular party leanings. Would hard-nosed Republicans find humor in those segments or would they possibly be offended? I believe that the unequal leaning of the show may cause some offense. Seth Meyers, a head writer and host of the Weekend Update segment admitted in a recent interview on the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons that it was fair to say that the show has liberal leanings. He also brought up the point that the show does impersonate Vice President Joe Biden at times. He stated that it was difficult to lampoon President Obama because he is a "hard-thinker."

I found it interesting that many anti-Obama ads aired during the episode. This makes me wonder about the demographic breakup of viewers of the show. Unfortunately I do not have access to this information, but it leads me to believe that perhaps the viewership is more liberal. Are these ads even effective when contrasted against the bashing that Republicans take from the show? Maybe they actually serve to balance out the liberal leaning and make things more equitable in the show's representation of both presidential candidates.

Looper: It's a dilemma

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Time travel is inherently full of paradoxes. Science fiction TV shows and movies have explored this element over the years and most, if not all, have plot holes or inconsistencies. The movie Looper, is no different. However, the key is for the audience to suspend disbelief and to enjoy not only the action but also the presentation of ethical dilemmas that give a deeper meaning to the movie.

The first of these dilemmas is faced by the older Joe, played by Bruce Willis. Joe is a man from the future who escapes being killed by his younger self, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The younger Joe is a Looper, a person whose job description involves killing whoever is sent back to him from the future. The older Joe knows that in the future there is an evil mastermind, called the Rainmaker. The Rainmaker was the person who was responsible for sending Joe back in time to get killed and separating him from his wife. Joe has obtained information on when and where the Rainmaker was born and can use this information to narrow down the places where the Rainmaker could have grown up to three. He wants to eliminate the Rainmaker as a child so that he can stay with his wife and so that the Rainmaker cannot spread his evil. His ethical dilemma here is if he is justified in not only killing the Rainmaker as a child but also potentially up to two other innocent children. This dilemma is emphasized to the audience when the older Joe is shown in a state of distress, having just killed one of the potential children and realizing that he wasn't the right one. The dark, rainy lighting in this scene highlights the turmoil Joe is facing. The audience can apply this dilemma to their own lives. While audience members cannot travel back in time to prevent evil from occurring, they can see that this dilemma has similar ties to torture. Is torture justified if it potentially can save thousands of lives? What if the wrong person is being tortured?

The second dilemma faced is one that the audience can directly apply to their own lives. Seth, played by Paul Dano, is unable to complete his task as a Looper and is in trouble with his boss, Abe, played by Jeff Daniels. He comes running to the younger Joe, asking for help. Joe hides him in his apartment but Abe knows he is hiding him. Abe calls Joe into his office and tells him that he has a choice to make: he can either give up Seth or give up half of his silver stash. This is a dilemma in that Joe can either protect his friend or give up his fortune that he has been saving so diligently. The audience has perhaps had to choose between conflicting options in the past and can identify with Joe as he makes his decision. Ultimately Joe chooses to keep the fortune and the audience sees quite visceral violence inflicted on Sean and his future-self. This violence serves to accentuate the consequences of Joe's decision.

The movie Looper is much more than just a human exploded by a psychic kid, gun battles, and a glimpse at a potential future. The ethical dilemmas presented really get the audience to think and also serve to connect a future, unfamiliar world to the audience's.

Where did Gangnam Style come from?

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The music video features a man in suits and sunglasses, an outdoor yoga session, and a horse-riding dance. The song is Gangnam Style, and was released on July 15, 2012 by the South Korean rapper Psy.

Why did the music video and song become so popular in the United States when the song isn't even in English? I believe that this is because the imagery in the video is fun and the music is catchy. We can gain no meaning from the lyrics because we can't understand them so all we have left is the rhythm and imagery. The images are fun and different from a typical pop rap video that has an almost aggressive, harsh vibe. The music video of Gangnam Style has humorous dancing and colorful locales and outfits. The horse-riding dance featured prominently throughout the video is simple, memorable, and easy to learn. The charismatic Psy shines through in his suits and sunglasses. The song appeals to a large audience. There is no specific meaning that restricts it to a particular group of people. It is not making a political or gender statement. Although the music video features local celebrities that are popular in Korean culture and there are some inside jokes in the lyrics, the understanding of these elements is not essential to its appeal. It truly is a global video and this has helped it spread significantly.

One of the ways through which the song became popular was the internet. Numerous celebrities such as T-Pain, Nelly Furtado, and Tom Cruise tweeted about the video and major media companies ran stories on the song. The music video quickly went viral on YouTube, garnering almost half a billion views. The song's lack of copyright has inspired parodies, mashups, and responses from all sorts of people including the United States Navy and the Oregon Duck mascot.

How long will this Gangnam Style madness last? Will another foreign pop song replace it? It comes down to what elements appeal to a large audience.

A silhouetted figure with the raspy voice of Clint Eastwood slowly walks toward the camera with his footsteps punctuating the dialogue. This television advertisement was shown at halftime during the last Superbowl. The ad was from the Chrysler group of automobiles and featured Clint Eastwood narrating the story of how the automobile company came back and saved Detroit, and how the American people as a nation can overcome our tough times. This advertisement was unique in that it did not give a specific call to action to buy a product or inquire about a service. It was more of a speech from Clint Eastwood that was intended to inspire and give hope to the American people. This is evidenced by the imagery of Eastwood. At first, he is nothing more than a silhouette in a shady, concrete hallway in the stadium. His face slowly becomes visible, gains focus, and eventually takes up the entire screen. This is symbolic of how Americans can also emerge from this time of uncertainty. Certain images are also shown which appeal to Americans such as a United States flag waving in the wind that represents patriotism and shots of industrial processes such as a car assembly line that represent growth and productivity. Clint Eastwood is also chosen as a spokesperson because his movies of cowboys and other works have given him a macho image of a strong, no-nonsense person. When he states "I've seen a lot of tough times when we didn't understand each other and it seems like we've lost our heart at times" the audience is not sure whether he is talking about his personal experiences or his roles as an actor. It doesn't matter much because most people would agree with his statement and therefore this strengthens his credibility of talking about the current state of America.

However, the ad is about more than just inspiring. Chrysler is a company so they are just not going to spend millions of dollars without getting some sort of return. The goal of the ad is to create an association between the images of hope, patriotism, growth and the Chrysler company. The hope is that viewers of the ad will believe that they can "get back up and fight" as Eastwood puts it by buying a Chrysler car. The ad is appealing to the solidarity of the American people and that fact that people want to win. Clint Eastwood directly connects the American people to Chrysler automobiles by saying that it's "true about them, true about all of us." Chrysler serves as a representation of the spirit and tenacity of the American people.

Is this an effective advertisement? I believe so. The ad appeals to the core values of Americans without directly suggesting that they take the action of buying a Chrysler. Whether or not this is strong enough to actually convince consumers to purchase one is difficult to measure. However, it certainly communicates the association between Chrysler and a rebirth of America with the choice of spokesperson and imagery.

It Doesn't Take A Genius?

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Samsung recently took out a full-page advertisement in major newspapers throughout the country touting its Galaxy SIII smartphone over Apple's iPhone 5. The ad is a side by side comparison of the two phones. Is the comparative ad effective? Let's take a look at the potential user classes that might view the ad and see.

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The first user class is users who currently have an iPhone and are looking to upgrade to either the new iPhone or a different smartphone. First of all the statistics indicate that only 9% of iPhone users are likely to switch to Android in the next six months. But let's put that statistic aside and examine if the ad gives current owners a solid reason to switch over to Samsung's handset. It does not. IPhone owners are not concerned about all the technical specs of their phones. They just like that their phone is easy to use and that it just works. After comparing the technical specs, Samsung goes on to name a bunch of additional features that the iPhone does not have. Current iPhone customers, however, will have no idea what these features actually do and will most likely not remember them after viewing the ad. In addition, the title of the ad, "It doesn't take a genius" directly plays on Apple's Genius Bar branding. The Genius Bar is where customers can go to get support from an Apple store. This title actually works against Samsung and underscores the fact that Samsung does not have stores where its customers can go to get support. The only thing that the ad communicates slightly well is the fact that the Samsung smartphone has a larger screen than the iPhone. However, this fact is not clear because the devices are shown tilted at an angle, which makes comparing the screen size directly challenging. In addition, the iPhone's screen is turned off, which makes a direct comparison even more difficult.

The second user class is those users who currently have an Android device and are looking to upgrade their phone. I think this ad targets these users slightly better than the first user class I mentioned. These users are more open to switching to Apple so they need to be convinced to stay with Android for their next phone purchase in contrast to the first user class that needs to be convinced to switch. The ad with its direct comparison shows that the Samsung device is as, if not more, capable than the iPhone. This informs users that choosing Android will not mean that they miss out on some essential features. However, this ad does nothing to differentiate the Samsung Galaxy SIII from all of the other Android smartphones that are very capable in feature sets. Many other devices have screens that are just as large. The ad does not associate a particular sign with the Samsung device so it fails to distinguish it from other Android phones.

The third user class is consumers who are looking to buy a smartphone for the first time. These users do not have much experience using a smartphone and probably do not have a very good idea of the particular features they are looking for. They will go to a store, talk to a salesperson, and use the different devices to get an idea of what they like. In this regard, the ad with its side by side comparison of technical specs and arbitrary features does little to convince a novice consumer to go with the Samsung product over the Apple one.

Apple also recently had a full page ad in the same newspaper. Here's a picture of the ad:

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Their ad is much simpler than that of Samsung's. Their ad is paired with a sign of simplicity. It cleanly communicates that the new iPhone is better. It states some simple specifications: "4-inch Retina display, ultrafast wireless, iOS 6 in a thinner, lighter designer." This is much easier for all of the different user classes to understand. It communicates to existing iPhone users that there is a new iPhone out and that it just as simple to use as their old phones yet is better. It is faster, thinner, and lighter. This pairing of the iPhone with simplicity sets it apart from the Android world in where there are so many different models to choose from and the user experience is all but guaranteed. For the second class of users, existing Android users, it communicates that there is a new sleek looking phone available from Apple but not much reason is given for those users to switch to iPhone from Android. The ad serves to inform these users that a new phone is available so if they are looking to upgrade it would be a good time to go with Apple. But many Android phones have large displays, and are fairly thin and light, so not much distinction is made between Apple and competing devices. For the third class of users, that don't understand a lot of smartphone lingo, they have no problem understanding the terms "most", "thinner", "lighter," and "ultrafast." They also recognize the distinctive look of the iPhone which they have inevitably seen on the streets and in the hands of their friends. So they are reminded of its popularity. When they go to the store, they will remember that a new iPhone has come out and will most likely look at it.

Both Samsung's and Apple's newspaper ads feature images of phones with text describing some of their capabilities. Samsung has a comparsion ad that fails to leave much imprint on of all the user classes whereas Apple's simple ad resonates well with both exisiting iPhone users and users looking to purchase a smartphone for the first time. How users will actually decode these two advertisements can only be speculated, however.

Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Premiere

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The premiere of season three of Boardwalk Empire had three murders, a lavish Egyptian New Year's celebration, and a rigged sales competition. Looking past these spectacles reveals a deeper commentary of life during the prohibition-era. In particular, the character of Margaret Thompson, played by Kelly Macdonald, allows the audience to see some of the challenges facing women during this time. Margaret is touring the new pediatric wing built by her donation to the hospital when a woman patient comes into the scene and blood splatters onto the floor underneath her dress. Margaret learns that the woman had a miscarriage from an E. coli infection caused by consuming raw milk. A young doctor reveals that the hospital has no prenatal care and that "women are ignorant about their bodies." Margaret asks, "What do you expect me to do?" The doctor replies "Nothing." Of course this is a challenge that we know Margaret cannot refuse. She tells the head doctor of the hospital about the problem and he is outraged. He feels insulted not just because his capability as a doctor is being challenged but more so because it is coming from a woman. He scolds her husband, "Nucky" Thompson, about how his wife had the nerve to bring up such a criticism. This is despite the fact that Margaret and Nucky Thompson are probably the biggest donators to his hospital. Through a later dialog with Nucky, we are reminded that Margaret's influence is made possible only through his money and power. Nucky lectures "My name is not to provide you with a bully pulpit." Although Margaret is in a more powerful position than other women in society, her ability to enact change is limited by the societal expectation that women do not get involved in the way businesses, such as the hospital, are run.

The episode also features an example of how women were exploring their identities during that time period. Carrie Duncan, an aviatrix, is shown to be flying across the country. This character appears to be a fictional representation of Amelia Earhart. The event makes the front-page of the newspaper and is on the radio. Carrie is challenging the typical roles of women in society. She is doing something adventurous and independent, without the support of a man. Margaret and another guest at her party both bemoan that they wish they could be as free as Carrie is. Margaret realizes that her lifestyle is dependent on the support of Nucky. This is symbolized by the scene where Margaret runs out to the beach to watch Carrie fly off into the distance while she is left below standing in the sand.

The premiere of season three was certainly action packed. It is more interesting, however, to examine the particular era through the modern lens that the show provides. How will Margaret continue to explore and try to create new freedoms for herself? Will she continue to push off Nucky and his expectations that reflect those of society? How much longer can their relationship continue to last?