Magazine article Variety

Islands in the Media Stream

Magazine article Variety

Islands in the Media Stream

Article excerpt

Corporate insistence on talent that self-promotes can lead to a different kind of cord-cutting

No man is an island " John Donne famously wrote. Yet that bit of 17th-century philosophy seems increasingly ill suited to a media age where it's every person - and each TV show - for itself.

Recent weeks have featured numerous examples of network branding, as programmers attempt to dazzle consumers with the breadth of their offerings. CBS filled its NCAA tournament coverage with promos touting the Eye network as home to the No. 1 (as in most-watched) drama, No. 1 comedy, and so on. AMC populated its high-rated The Walking Dead season finale with a campaign dubbed Something More, awkwardly seeking to link zombies to Mad Men, along with less-classy fare like the unscripted immortalized and Freakshow.

The social-media age, though, has made such connections ever more tenuous, allowing viewers to circumvent traditional distribution chains, and individual talent and franchises to bypass their employers and speak directly to their fans.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to entertainment. Journalists step outside their news outlets and engage the public, forgoing the customary megaphone. Hence former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann can continue to interact with his 437,000 Twitter followers more than a year after splitting with Current TV, where his on-air audience was actually smaller.

New York Times media writer David Carr parenthetically noted in last week's column, "My boss likes to point out that I tweet constantly but Twitter never sends me a check." True enough, but Carr and others are in a sense making an investment - not just calling attention to their work but building a personal brand that in theory will be at least semi-portable should they and their current employers part company.

Everyone has in essence been turned (sometimes grudgingly) into their own marketing department, cementing a rapport with an audience designed to extend beyond transitory affiliations like network or news outlet.

If this state of affairs represents a departure from the old order, it's a perfectly logical response to a business environment where media conglomerates have demonstrated just how disposable employees and franchises can be.

Viewed that way, loyalty and team spirit - while conceptually laudable - are for saps. Much like the prevailing mindset in the sporting world upon which TV networks have become so reliant, welcome to the era of free agency, where the LeBron James brand is bigger than the specific NBA jersey he happens to wear that season. …

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