The New York Times is struggling to sell all of its ad space

The New York Times is making ads for the future — but where’s the money right now?:

According to Haskell, the New York Times‘ digital story-telling machinery is appealing to companies as a way to convey heritage and complicated brand stories. He adds that clients like Prudential say they have had tremendous response to their campaigns, including huge lifts from social media.

But despite the promise of such ad tools — and clever platform tools like Ricochet and Sparking Stories – the Times’ overall ad performance is limping. Recent earnings results show that digital ad sales are not just flat but actually declining — a troubling development at a time when digital revenue is supposed to stabilize the company as it faces a permanent decline in its print business.

Haskell says the company has been unable to pre-sell all its inventory, and attributes the overall ad challenges to two factors — “an explosion of inventory from social channels” (read Facebook) and the rise of automated or “programmatic” buying which lets advertisers purchase digital ads on real time exchanges.

Why isn’t The New York Times using programmatic ad buying? Haskell, the company’s VP of advertising, thinks that their reader data and performance metrics can woo companies over from more automatic ad placement options. Why not give advertisers access to those metrics as part of a programmatic buying toolset?

Keynes was right: less than a third of our working hours go towards basic needs

How Much is Enough? Why do we Work so Much and Enjoy so Little Leisure?:

Yet the surprising fact, unnoticed by the Skidelskys, is that we already spend less than 15 hours a week, on average, working in the areas of agriculture, mining, and manufacture. In that sense, Keynes’ prediction has already come true, fifteen years ahead of schedule. Let’s look at some numbers.

[…]

Instead of starting with employment, let’s look at data for GDP. Consumer goods (including durable and nondurable, farm and nonfarm, but excluding services) account for 25.5 percent of U.S. GDP. That includes consumption of imported goods. (Imports of goods are equal to 13.5 percent of U.S. GDP and exports of goods to 9.4 percent, making net imports, including both consumer and non-consumer products, equal to about 4.1 percent of GDP.) Let’s suppose that Americans were to produce all goods consumed in the United States, at an average level of productivity, and at the same time were to drop production of goods for export. Even so, it would still only take 9 hours of our average 35-hour week to meet our demand for consumer goods in full–well below Keynes’ prediction of “three hours a day to satisfy the old Adam in most of us.”

These numbers cast a different light on the puzzle of leisure. The question is not why we spend so many hours a week producing wet suits and golf clubs that we don’t really need. The fact is that goods production doesn’t really occupy much of our working time. The puzzle, instead, is what is important enough to occupy the rest of our working hours, rather than devoting more of them to leisure?

Keynes thought that we’d all be working 15-hour weeks by now. Instead of being content, we work more in order to maintain the services that we associate with a first-world standard of living. The majority of the hours we work don’t go towards basic needs like food and shelter – they finance the government, health care, and education.

Arrested Development shows us the downside to binge-watching

Arrested Development and the case against binge-watching:

How strange that it already feels too late to talk about the return of Arrested Development. After all, fans waited, and lobbied, and agitated for seven years -before the arrival of a treasure trove of 15 fresh episodes of the cult comedy, and as I write this, it’s been only two weeks since Netflix unveiled them in its signature open-all-your-Christmas-presents-at-once style. But it turns out that even a binge viewer’s paradise has a dark side: If supersizing your TV portions is so great, why does Arrested Development feel so…over? And why didn’t people have more fun with something they wanted so badly and were so happy to get?

Going by the Twitter reactions and the recaps that started to appear just hours after the show was made available, many viewers seem to have taken in too much too fast. Some expressed disappointment at the pacing of the episodes; some objected to a complicated and repetitive story line in which jokes pay off only after circling back to the same event multiple times. I’ll leave that debate to more devoted buffs (I’m a latecomer), but I will point out that if you take in several episodes of anything in a row, the word repetitive will likely come to mind. No wonder many AD fans sounded a bit green around the gills in those first few days, like Cartman overeating until all he can do is gasp, “No…more…pie.”

I’ve been spacing out my viewing of the latest season of Arrested Development – I’m only on episode 4 – and so far, I’ve found that I’m enjoying it more than people who rushed through half a season the day it came out.

Of course, some people genuinely don’t like the new format for the show – it’s very different from the three seasons that ran on Fox. If you liked the original series but haven’t given the fourth season a shot, I recommend watching the first two episodes (the first is rather mediocre by itself) and then giving yourself a few days before trying more.

General Zod is a Krypto-Zionist

Connor Kilpatrick, in his review of Man of Steel for Jacobin:

If anything, Shannon’s Zod reminded me of an ultra-right Likudnik. The big, loud climax of the movie comes when Zod sends two gigantic robo-drills to terraform Earth into a New Krypton, which would of course end with the total extinction of the human race. But Zod’s not too worried about that. He all but says “can’t make Space-Zion without breaking a few eggs.”

For a character dreamed up by two Jewish boys in Cleveland as a kind of Moses-cum-Christ figure, it’s bizarre that no one’s made this connection yet. Which goes to show you just how off-the-radar the plight of the Palestinians is for both mainstream America as well as our circle of liberal film critics.

Zod’s fervent Krypto-Zionism versus Kal-El’s pluralism and universalism reminded me of a passage from Eric Hobsbawm’s memoir:

“As a historian I observe that, if there is any justification for the claim that the 0.25 per cent of the global population in the year 2000 which constitute the tribe into which I was born are a ‘chosen’ or special people, it rests not on what it has done within the ghettos or special territories, self-chosen or imposed by others, past, present or future. It rests on its quite disproportionate and remarkable contribution to humanity in the wider world, mainly in the two centuries or so since the Jews were allowed to leave the ghettos, and chose to do so. We are, to quote the title of the book of my friend Richard Marienstras, Polish Jew, French Resistance fighter, defender of Yiddish culture and his country’s chief expert on Shakespeare, ‘un peuple en diaspora.’”

How to fix Man of Steel’s ending

(Warning: This post focuses on the ending to the recently released Man of Steel. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t be an idiot and continue reading because obviously there will be spoilers.) 

Man of Steel, the first Superman film in seven years, finally came out last Friday after nearly a year of teasers and hype-building. The end result of a collaboration between Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and David Goyer, the film gets a lot right: we see an interesting take on the Fortress of Solitude and the presence of Jor-El in Superman’s life, a cast of strong female characters that don’t simply scream at every explosion (Pepper Potts, I’m looking at you – how many times in the Iron Man series has she screamed “TONY!”?), and a fleshed-out backstory of Superman growing up feeling like an outsider. Clark’s powers manifesting as autism-like symptoms was brilliant in this regard.

But the movie also got a lot wrong. As much as I love the guy, Michael Shannon was terrible as General Zod. The eye-bulging, rage-mode screaming can only carry a villain so far before it wears thin. The flashbacks to Clark’s childhood could have been executed better – it was blatantly obvious that Clark pushed that bus out of the water, and how did Pete get out of the bus for Clark to have to save him anyway? I won’t even get into how odd it seemed that Zod and company had all of Clark’s powers after less than 24 hours on Earth. These complaints are relatively minor compared to the problems facing the final thirty minutes.

As mentioned in basically every review on the web, the final battle between Superman and Zod took way too long and deviated way too much from the character in order to give the audience a massive, city-destroying battle. It’s absurd to show Superman killing to save a handful of people when the destruction wrought in the fist-fight moments before likely killed dozens of innocent bystanders.

Here’s how you fix the ending to Man of Steel in a way that reduces the total length of the film without taking away the badass fight scene: replace the giant Kyptonian ice-snakes at the World Engine with Zod. It makes logical sense: have Faora and the other Zod minions protect the main ship, have Zod protect the very machine that will turn Earth into Krypton, Zod’s stated one-and-only goal

This allows Superman and Zod to fight as hard as they want and not put any civilians in danger, which fits better with Clark’s M.O. for most of the movie. It would let Zod disappear without Superman having to kill him: just give us some BS about the two machines being sucked into the Phantom Zone at the same time because they’re synced up. I’d buy it. 

It also allows for a throwback to the original 1978 Superman. As the hole to the Phantom Zone opens, Clark hears Lois Lane on the other side of the Earth getting pulled in from her end. He flies faster than ever to go save her. Here, we insert some voice-over from Jor-El, along the lines of “The only way to see just how powerful you’ve become is to keep pushing yourself” and “You can save her.” This would make fans of the Reeves Superman a little bit more content with the reboot and make him saving her more impressive – no one thought he might fail when he was starting from a few hundred meters away.

If you’ve got any comments or other ideas about how things should have gone down, I’d love to hear them. Hit me up, I’m @kylebrussell on Twitter.

Netflix’s next market: children

Netflix signs exclusive deal for over 300 hours of original DreamWorks Animation content:

Netflix is to create new shows based on characters from DreamWorks’ feature films, while the studio will open its Class Media library which it acquired in 2012. Having found success with House of Cards and a new series of Arrested Development, Netflix is now looking to children’s shows in order to expand its content selection and cater for one of its most important demographics — although there is no word on whether we will see a new Shrek show or Kung Fu Panda mini-series.

Last year, the company announced it had signed an exclusive deal to bring content from Disney, Marvel, and Pixar movies to the service. Today’s announcement means it now has the two biggest animation studios on board. Netflix will begin airing its original series in 2014, adding animated movies The Croods, Turbo, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman at the same time.

There’s already a ton of kid-friendly content available on Netflix, but having exclusive rights to hundreds of hours of animation from Disney and DreamWorks that has none of the commercials on Disney/Nickelodeon/Cartoon Network basically makes it the most attractive option for parents looking to keep their kids entertained.

Surprise: LinkedIn doing well as a publishing platform

Sharing Business Insights, LinkedIn Builds Its Publishing Presence:

But Daniel Roth, the executive editor of LinkedIn, said that Influencers is catnip to executive-suite aspirants and is transforming viewer engagement on the site. Visitors viewed 63 percent more pages in the first quarter of 2013, ending in May, than they did in the quarter a year earlier, according to the earnings report. Mr. Roth said traffic to all its news products had increased eightfold since Influencers was introduced, although he would not say from what base it was measured. Top posts routinely record more than 100,000 views, according to the site’s own accounting.

People want to read what Richard Branson and Bill Gates have to say, even if their posts are little more than fluff pieces. Go figure.

Becoming a scientist isn’t an option for most kids

The Path to Being a Scientist Doesn’t Have to Be So Narrow:

Many American students are all but knocked out of the race toward a graduate science degree before their 13th birthday. To get on the advanced math track in high school, you need to complete algebra in the eighth grade. This is standard practice in affluent communities but rare to nonexistent in many low-income schools. Then students must advance through calculus—another subject more available to the privileged—by their senior year of high school. Then they must navigate the complex college admissions process and come up with an increasingly large amount of money to pay tuition. Then they have to slog through huge, impersonal freshman lecture courses that are designed to weed students out. Only then can the few students who remain advance toward science careers.

While I look forward to online classes making higher education more accessible in the coming years, I also worry about the cultural shifts that need to happen if America is going to stay competitive in the future. Parents need to understand the importance of motivating their children to aspire to bigger and better things. That can’t be taught in the classroom alone. 

If a university-level education can be offered for little-to-no-cost to anyone anywhere in the world, we need to make sure that our kids take advantage of that opportunity because at some point, people won’t need to come to America to be successful.

The pros and cons of having an opinion as a journalist

Politics: some / Politics: none. Two ways to excel in political journalism. Neither dominates.:

“None” journalists have certain advantages over their “some” colleagues, but the reverse is also true. If you want to appear equally sympathetic to all potential sources, politics: none is the way to go. If you want to avoid pissing off the maximum number of users, politics: none gets it done. (This has commercial implications. They are obvious.) But: if you’re persuaded that transparency is the better route to trust, politics: some is the better choice. And if you want to attract sources who themselves have a political commitment or have come to a conclusion about matters contested within the political community, being open about your politics can be an advantage. That is the lesson that Glenn Greenwald has been teaching the profession of journalism for the last week. Edward Snowden went to him because of his commitments. This has implications for reporters committed to the “no commitments” style.

The key is to not go too far in either direction.

Being detached and objective is fine, but you don’t want to be so removed from the reality of what you’re reporting on that you go into what Paul Krugman calls “shape of planet blogging” – being so committed to reporting both sides of a story that you’re willing to spread points of view that are wrong or outright lies.

On the other end of the spectrum, don’t be Fox News or MSNBC.

Electric vehicle owners pay $1.14 for the equivalent of a gallon of gas

$1.14 a gallon gas? That’s the equivalent cost for electric vehicles:

A new statistic — the eGallon — will now be calculated monthly by the Department of Energy to gauge the price paid by electric vehicle drivers to go the same distance that a driver of a conventional car will travel, on average, using a gallon of gas.

People who own electric vehicles may already know what they’re paying to fill up, but the agency introduced the new “eGallon” metric to help consumers who are thinking about buying electric vehicles.

Based on the 2012 model year, the department’s analysis concluded that consumers are paying $1.14 a gallon nationally to drive 28.2 miles, the average distance traveled by comparable 2012 non-electric small and medium-size cars.

That $1.14 per eGallon compares with $3.65, the national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline.

With leases on electric cars approaching those of gasoline-powered vehicles, electric vehicles are coming ever closer to being the practical option for most drivers. The case is even stronger when you look at the the energy density of next-generation batteries – when electric cars can drive 1000 miles in one go, no one will complain about charging times,