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Beach Reading for the Media-Obsessed

Looking for some beach reading that's both entertaining and informative (and tax deductible since it is work-related)? Here are three new tomes that offer insights and very different perspectives into various segments of the fast-shifting world of digital media.

'Frenemies' Starts With the New Personalities of Media/Marketing

Ken Auletta, media writer for "The New Yorker," spoke about his new book, "Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else)," at an Aspen Institute talk June 8, 2018.

Ken Auletta, media writer for "The New Yorker," spoke about his new book, "Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else)," at an Aspen Institute talk June 8, 2018.

In a talk about his book Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else), New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta cited s evidence of the rapid changes, the situation of Sir Martin Sorrell, the former chair/CEO of global ad firm WPP plc. 

Sorrell (who was in the headlines again this weekend amid new allegations of personal misconduct and misuse of company assets) told Auletta earlier this year that he would "never" retire from WPP. But he was shoved out in April, too late to change the text in the first edition of Frenemies. Auletta promised that the e-book version and future print editions will update Sorrell's status.

During the book talk at the Aspen Institute's Washington office on June 8, days after Frenemies was published, Auletta explained why his approach to the shifting advertising landscape can be seen as a leading indicator of the entire media ecosystem overhaul. He described why he chose Michael Kassan, the CEO of MediaLink and "arguably the supreme power broker in the advertising and marketing industry" as a centerpiece of Frenemies

Although Kassan and his company are not widely recognized outside his target turf, MediaLink's role in connecting digital media operators and marketers has made a major dent in the traditional ad agency role. Hence the title conveys the urgency for all players to find ways to work together in the shifting relationships among collaborators (friends) or competitors (enemies).

As Auletta attests in the book's introduction, Frenemies "is populated by characters who represent the points of tension within this world." He describes them as "passionate and creative people" operating in "a world roiled by anxiety."

The "mad men" of advertising lore have been replaced by "math men" working in a world of artificial intelligence, algorithms and big data, which raisex questions about whether the "science of advertising can replace the art," he said.

In a chapter entitled "Good-Bye Advertising Axioms," Auletta plunges into ways in which President Trump has "injected more uncertainty into the marketing and media industry," beyond tax breaks for ad expenses, fake news and merger approvals. He summarizes the net neutrality imbroglio, but focuses on the "existential threats" that digital giants such as Facebook and Google, as well as mobile phones, can wreak on the traditional marketing and the new e-commerce juggernaut.

Frenemies makes just a single reference to Comcast (in a riff about the personal data collected and stored by set-top boxes and other technology) and spends only a few pages on cable TV in general, mostly about broadcasters' reliance on retransmission-consent fees. But its overarching messages emphasizes how the quickly evolving media landscape is forcing every company to examine the way it operates.

Recommendation: Detailed, gossipy, thorough. Perceptive insights into the new world of advertising, but no specific predictions about what the future looks like. You just know there will be changes and now you know more of the major players.

'Broad Band' Continues the 'Hidden Figures' Story 

Despite its cheeky, saucy title, "Broad Band" by Claire Evans doesn't say much about broadband. It does, however, fulfill its subtitle: "The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet," and is particularly strong about the role women have played throughout the computer age. 

 Although far from a feminist manifesto, Evans' introduction emphatically announces that, "This is a book about women" and declares its intent to show how "Women built empires in the dot-com era." Evans (a VICE reporter, tech journalist and Yacht lead singer) reminds us that the women she profiles are "some of the brightest programmers and engineers in the history of the medium."

After a thorough chronicle of early women in tech (such as the "computers" in the book-turned-movie Hidden Figures about the vital, unseen NASA human calculators), Evans gets into the online world about halfway through the book. 

 Her "Communities" chapter starts with the earliest online services, featuring profiles of early developers such as Stacy Horn, who created "ECHO" (East Coast Hang-Out) in the 1980s as a "place to flirt, gossip and argue" about literature, film, culture and sex. It was fundamentally a New York-based bulletin board system that used the methods of California's emerging BBS's. Significantly, when she created ECHO, Horn was a student at New York University's legendary Interactive Telecommunications Program. ITP was part laboratory/part think tank - and a notable breeding ground (under long-time director Red Burns) for cable, video and other projects. Evans dives deeply into Horn's efforts to bring women online.

"At the time...., the entire Internet was only about 10 to 15 percent female," she wrote, "but women made up nearly half of ECHO's user base." Horn's process for building a system, which still exists as a BBS hence not a web service, is an inspiring lesson in how to be an early Information Superhighway player and maintain a role for three decades.

Chapters profile the founders of Women's WIRE, and other online sites. Examples include familiar cable industry names who delved into the online sector such as Geraldine Laybourne, "a television executive [who] announced Oxygen Media, a cable channel with an accompanying web presence" in 1998, and Candice Carpenter, a "scandalously interesting" media executive who parlayed relationships into iVillage, which expanded its online reach into TV.

There are lengthy descriptions of "girl gamers," electronic Hollywood and other ventures in which women pioneers jumped into the XY-chromosome dominated industry. Evans concludes with recommendations that female digital venturers should not accept "the prevailing myths .... [about] alpha nerds and brogrammers," and that they should "learn all the strategies ... from our forebears."

Recommendation: A valuable history lesson and pep talk about successful women in the digital industries, albeit with nary a mention of the current bold-face executive names such as Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Marissa Mayer (formerly Yahoo!) or Susan Wojcicki (YouTube). It's loaded with tactics and examples for technology management, albeit not specifically (or even substantially) about the communications operations sector.

'Media 2.0(18)' Updates Game Plan for Suppliers 

Media 2.0(18) begins with author Peter Csathy's lofty promise that this book offers "an Insiders' Guide to Today's Digital Media World and Where It's Going."

Csathy not only fulfills his objective, but also provides specific assessments of the current dominant companies and offers recommendations on how to work with them. 

The new edition, which updates last year's Media 2.0(17), focuses on over-the-top and on-demand ventures in the video and music sectors. Csathy expanded his insights into emerging categories, such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and eSports plus extensive analyses of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology, focusing on how they will transform the media business. (Csathy said significantly, but it may take a while.)

Csathy -- who is founder/chair of CREATV Media, a Los Angeles business development and investment firm, and has been a senior executive at Universal Studios and New Line Cinema -- includes updated profiles of big and small companies in each category of content creation and delivery. Not only do we get his views on the OTT concepts at Netflix, Disney, HBO and traditional media companies, but we see how social media, games and music are transforming the new environment.

The book strongly advises media companies to accelerate their efforts to establish pertinent ways to use AR, VR and MR. "Stakes are high....[and] the VR market opportunity is even higher," Csathy wrote, although he acknowledged that AR will see widespread market presence much sooner than VR.

The book concludes with "10 lessons" about success in the digital ecosystem. Csathy cited the need to collect and use pertinent data and the requirement to recognize that "we now live in a multiplatform world" that includes mobile delivery and social media applications.

Recommendation: A detailed industry status overview, which pushes the urgency for decision-making. The corporate profiles are valuable, and they build to Csathy's final word of encouragement that successful companies must act, not merely react, to the new competitive forces.