The MediaLog MediaFix: Vintage March Madness from 1983

In honor of the now-annual cultural and sports ritual known as March Madness, the MediaLog presents this pair of video clips from the 1983 NCAA men's basketball championship. Until the early-1980s, the NCAA tournament was a much smaller affair than it has become in the decades since. The 1979 championship game between Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores (won by Michigan State) raised the tournament's profile greatly, and by 1985 the tournament had expanded to the 60-plus team size it has been ever since.

The 1983 championship was a match-up between the North Carolina State Wolfpack, coached by Jim Valvano, and the Houston Cougars, best known that year for their group of players (including future NBA stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler) nicknamed "Phi Slama Jama." Valvano's Wolfpack pulled out a last-second upset over the favored Houston team. The first clip is a network preview package by sportscaster Dick Schaap that consists mainly of interview footage with Valvano. The second clip is the last minute or so of the championship game itself, with the customary immediate post-game jubilation.


"Phantom of the Opera" and More in "The Reel Journal" from 1925

A magnificent new resource for film historians and researchers--or for anyone interested in learning about old movies and the history of the American film industry--is the website Issuu, specifically the collection of "Boxoffice" magazines hosted there. "Boxoffice" (which is still publishing) is a trade publication for movie distributors and exhibitors that dates back to the 1920s. The historical back issues, nearly all of which can be found and browsed at Issuu, are a wealth of information--an embarrassment of riches, really--for studying American film history.

The above issue of "The Reel Journal" (a predecessor of "Boxoffice"), from February 14, 1925, features this double-page advertisement for "The Phantom of the Opera," starring Lon Chaney, which was then in release from Universal Studios. Interestingly, the image featured in the ad does not include Chaney, perhaps because the actor--known as the "Man of 1000 Faces" for his elaborate make-up--was being kept under wraps in the film's publicity to preserve the impression his visage would make on viewers.

The old issues of "Boxoffice" available for view on Issuu represent a unprecedented level of access for such an historical resource. Although the Issuu interface (available for use by anyone to "publish" newsletters and the like) is somewhat clunky--there's no easy way to conduct searching, for example, and in the case of "Boxoffice" at least, poor indexing of the hundreds of issues available--it is possible to bookmark particular pages, create your own library of publications, and (as seen above) embed individual publications on your own webpage or blog. There are several options for navigating individual issues, although (again in the case of "Boxoffice" at least) image quality is rather poor.

The above issue of "The Reel Journal" can be navigated and explored fully. It's an amazing immersion in movie culture of past eras. In the future, I will likely post additional issues of "Boxoffice" and its predecessor publications, as I discover nuggets of information and images that I think warrant the treatment.


MediaLog MediaBrief: Sci Fi Channel to Change Name to "Syfy"

Making the media news rounds today are plans by NBC Universal to change the name of Sci Fi Channel to Syfy. (Articles reporting said name change are here, here, and here.) The new name, while retaining identification with the genre of science fiction (it's pronounced the same as "sci fi"), is meant to broaden the appeal and scope of the network, with programming related to additional topics such as paranormal phenomena, fantasy, and other broadly scientific/fictional realms.

This strikes me as a rather bone-headed move by NBC Universal. Although not as widely viewed as some cable networks by virtue of the fact that its subject matter is not every viewer's cup of tea, Sci Fi Channel has had a strong identity that has catered to hardcore science fiction fans, as well as others who may not be as hardcore but who have been attracted to the channel by programming such as critical darling "Battlestar Galactica." This name change seems to be (potentially) chucking most of that brand equity and loyal viewer goodwill in a gambit to broaden the network's appeal. There's a very good chance that longtime loyal Sci Fi Channel viewers will be upset with the change (which includes the network's related properties, such as its popular website), and that nonviewers will likely remain uninterested in the network's offerings. There's also the chance that casual viewers seeing the name"Syfy"--with the built-in pronunciation issues for those not hip to the change --will not make the connection to the old Sci Fi Channel.

The change also strikes me as another in the trend of cable branding changes that has made most of the cable programming landscape into a mushy mess of watered down network identities in the free-for-all of attracting viewers. Rather than stick with what is perhaps a smaller but also a more loyal core of viewers, channels have made changes (not always involving the name of the network) that have represented abandonments of the network's original identity. ("Ice Road Truckers" on History Channel, anyone? How about truTV? Don't get me started on TV Land.) In many respects, what was once a terrain of well-established and well-defined niches for cable networks has become a muddled and increasingly desperate grasping for elusive large-scale audiences. Sci Fi Channel's rebranding as Syfy is merely the latest example of this.


A Hard Days Lego

Here's a great confluence of the cult popularity of Legos, popular music, and the Web: Lego versions of Beatles album covers. Flickr has a whole pool of photos that are Lego versions of different (and not just Beatles) album covers. Things like this make me wonder what we all wasted time on before the Web. They also fill me with wonder regarding the depth of awareness and knowledge regarding certain pop culture phenomena (such as Legos and Beatles album covers).


Does DVR Viewing = Less Urgent Viewing?

An interesting blog post by Wayne Friedman on MediaPost's TV Watch blog asks whether DVR viewing of a TV show means that a show is less urgent, by implication less important, and thus its advertising less potent, to viewers who choose to watch programs in this fashion. Friedman seems to think that the answer to these interrelated questions is yes, but I would argue that he misunderstands how DVR owners utilize their machines and how TV viewing is evolving for those viewers that have DVRs.

Of course, Friedman writes for an audience of industry insiders intimately involved in network programming strategies and/or TV advertising sales and strategy, people for whom the most important factor is how fully and effectively television ads are delivered to viewers. There's no question that DVR viewing waters down this effectiveness--which is one of the reasons why DVR viewing is becoming such an attractive option for millions of viewers.

I can only speak from my own experience, but I have a feeling that it is similar to many people who regularly view TV from shows recorded on a DVR. Viewing shows on a DVR alters the ways that you think about watching TV. And many of these ways--at least for me--have to do with avoiding or minimizing exposure to ads.

There are several viewing strategies for ad avoidance. One is to pause the DVR's live feed on a channel, leave the room to do something else for a short time, then resume viewing of the program and fast-forwarding through the commercial breaks. Another is to set a program to record on the DVR and to start watching the program 15 or 20 minutes after it has started; this also allows fast-forwarding through the commercial breaks. Recorded shows can likewise be viewed (and ads fast-forwarded through) later on after the actual broadcast has finished--anywhere from later the same evening to later in the week (or beyond).

These strategies are not news for anyone that has and uses a DVR. They are not even that different from the time-shifting methods used by viewers who used to (or still do) record TV shows on a VCR. This kind of time-shifting has two compelling benefits: avoiding commercials and compressing the amount of time it takes to watch a program. Despite the fact that--from the perspective of networks and advertisers--television programs have always been merely something to fill the time between commercial breaks, viewers would (in most cases) rather avoid ads whenever and however possible. Avoiding the commercial breaks also allows an hour-long show to be viewed in a little over 45 minutes, meaning that an evening's worth (three hours) of programming can be watched in a little over two hours--a benefit not to be underestimated in our overscheduled and time-scarce society.

Which brings me back to the question of whether or not DVR viewing equals less urgent viewing. Of course, strictly speaking, there is no doubt that this is true. Watching a program at a later time (say, the next day) when it could have been watched at the moment it was airing by definition makes that viewing less urgent. I would, however, challenge the idea that less urgency in viewing a program signals a lesser commitment to it. The fact that I often watch "30 Rock" on Friday evening, or even not until sometime over the weekend, instead of during its actual airing on Thursday evening, does not mean that I have less of a commitment to it. It simply means that because I record it on my DVR I don't feel any urgency to watch it immediately. I know I'll get to it within a day or two, and doing so does not reduce my commitment to or interest in the program.

Networks and advertisers (and the support functions for television, such as ratings services) are still adjusting to this new world of viewing options and possibilities. The fact that Friedman in his blog post seems to misunderstand the viewing habits and priorities of DVR users indicates that they may still have a lot more adjustments in store.


The MediaLog MediaFix: "The Jack Paar Program" (1963)

Today's MediaFix is a 1963 monologue by the great television humorist Jack Paar, who occupied the host's chair of "The Tonight Show" after Steve Allen and before Johnny Carson, from 1957 to 1962. Paar was unlike the other "Tonight Show" hosts in that he relied less on the kind of (sometimes wacky) sketch comedy and topical monologues of Allen, Carson, and Jay Leno, and more on a sort of gentle conversational humor that may have topical elements but was ultimately more interested in poking at broader human foibles.

That humor perspective is in full flower in this monologue, which is not from "The Tonight Show" but from Paar's subsequent prime-time talk-variety show that aired on NBC from 1962 to 1965 (and was very similar to Paar's "Tonight Show"). It demonstrates how Paar combined light topicality with good-humored prodding at the privileged class. Madame Nhu, first lady of Vietnam, movie producer Sam Spiegel, and Jackie Kennedy's sister "Princess" Radziwill are all broadly topical figures that would have been known to contemporary early-1960s audiences. Paar's jesting at their expense, though, is not caustic or sharp in the ways of Carson and Leno, but rather pokes fun at such things as Spiegel's yacht and Radziwill's royal pretensions. Even with this gentler approach Paar (with help from his writers) also demonstrates a savvy comedic sense, weaving throughout the monologue ribbing of Spiegel and the theme of items from society columns.