Online ads: It’s called a flight to quality

There’s much sturm und drang about online advertising, and whether it’s in a big hole or a *really* big hole. Judging by the graphic of a giant smoking crater he used for his post, Peter Kafka at All Things D apparently falls into the latter camp, and he also quotes Nick “The Dark Lord” Denton as saying that anyone who doesn’t expect ad rates to fall 40 per cent is an idiot (although, to his credit, Peter does note that Denton is always saying things like that). But one of the reports that everyone is using for fodder, which comes from the Rubicon Project, isn’t that bleak at all.

If anything, in fact, the Rubicon report indicates that online advertising is still growing relatively strongly despite the turmoil in credit markets and the slump in stock prices, and could even benefit as advertisers look for more quantifiable results for their spending, which online ads provide. The report also says that while overall ad rates tracked by the network dropped 11 per cent in the quarter:

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Motorola: First-sale doctrine — what’s that?

I would take this one with a large grain — perhaps even a boulder — of salt, but according to a report in The Register, wireless-handset maker Motorola is planning to get buyers of its new, ultra-expensive Aura handset to sign something saying they won’t sell the device on eBay. The report (from the usual unnamed source) says that buyers would be required to sell the handsets back to Motorola if they didn’t want them any more. This has drawn scoffs from a number of commenters at Gizmodo and elsewhere, and rightly so, since such a policy would almost certainly be a breach of the so-called “first-sale doctrine” (in the United States, at least).

In a nutshell, the first-sale doctrine — which was originally created to cover patented items, but has since been extended to cover copyrighted material as well, such as records and CDs — prevents a patent-holder or manufacturer from extending their control over an object or piece of content beyond the first sale of that object or content. In other words, “the first unrestricted sale of a patented item exhausts the patentee’s control over that particular item.” This is to allow buyers of CDs and other products to sell them through second-hand stores, or to loan them to friends.

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MTV: Put your ad next to pirated content

It’s one thing to turn a blind eye — as some networks do — to the uploading of pirated content that occurs daily on YouTube, MySpace and other social networks and services. To use one potential metaphor, it’s like the approach that some countries take to prostitution or marijuana: They know it’s out there, but as long as it doesn’t cause any trouble then they’re okay with it. It’s quite another thing, however, to do what MTV is proposing to do, which is to actually place ads alongside the content that is being infringed. That’s like legalizing prostitution or marijuana use and taxing it.

According to an announcement today, MTV has teamed up with MySpace and a company called Auditude to do exactly that (I mean sell ads next to copyright-infringing videos, not legalize prostitution and marijuana use). Theoretically, that means the network — and MySpace — could benefit any time someone uploads a clip from The Colbert Report or South Park or a music video, based on the advertising that Auditude inserts into the clip. As the LA Times story notes, YouTube rolled out similar technology earlier this year, giving copyright holders the option of monetizing their content rather than removing it. And some are taking that offer.

As more than one person has noted, the approach that MTV Networks is taking seems a little ironic, given that its parent company Viacom is still suing Google for $1-billion in a long-running copyright infringement case. Will that kind of lawsuit go away, as more content providers try to monetize their content wherever it appears, rather than suing to have it taken down? I hope so. What if Auditude or YouTube offered its identification technology as an open API, so that video clips posted by people like me could include ads? I think that would be a great solution. Bring it on.

Can Oprah overcome the Kindle’s looks?

So what happened when Oprah, the Queen of All Media, mentioned on her show that the Kindle is her “new favourite gadget?” According to Ad Age, the amount of traffic to the Amazon website was about six per cent higher than usual on that day. That’s not a huge amount — but the article also mentions that the number of searches for the keyword “Kindle” rose by close to 500 per cent, which is a pretty big number. Traffic from Oprah’s site to Amazon’s, meanwhile, went up by more than 15,000 per cent.

As Greg Sandoval of CNET points out, Oprah is hugely influential with a certain demographic, one that is much larger than the initial geek/early adopter crowd that gravitates to things like the Kindle. The biggest issue for the device, in my view — apart from the fact that we can’t get them in Canada, of course — is that the Kindle is, well… butt ugly. Seriously, the thing looks like it was designed back in the 1970s, by someone who had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey too many times.

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Wheelchair backflip: Hardcore sitting

Aaron Fotheringham is 16 years old and has been in a wheelchair since he was eight years old, as a result of spina bifida. But he didn’t let that stop him from attempting, and successfully completing, many of the stunts that his older brother and friends performed on their BMX bikes and skateboard at the local skate park. That includes what appears to be the first example of a wheelchair backflip — something that has landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records. Aaron, who turns 17 in a few days, has also performed a number of other stunts, including a 180-degree aerial, and you can see some of them here and here. He refers to what he does as “hardcore sitting.”

Click through to watch a video…

Goodnight, Opus — sweet dreams

There are a few comic strips that stand out in my mind over the years. The first is Doonesbury, for obvious reasons — brilliant social commentary and wit — followed closely by Calvin & Hobbes, and then Berke Breathed‘s Bloom County. I still have a bunch of the collected Bloom County strips, and can recall many a Christmas morning spent enjoying them after getting one under the tree. The strip ended in 1998, followed by a related comic called Outland (which I didn’t like as much) and then a Sunday-only strip featuring Opus the penguin all by himself. Now Breathed has ended that one too, with a single panel showing his anti-hero snuggled in bed in the children’s book Goodnight Moon. It’s a fitting end for a true innocent like Opus, one of the great comic characters of our time. Salon has an interview with the artist, who says that he decided to end it because his anger at the political situation in the U.S. was bleeding through into the strip.

Financial collapse and a Wisconsin school board

I’ve read a lot of articles about the financial meltdown in the United States and elsewhere, about the credit collapse and the rise of systemic risk, etc. — but few of them have contained a paragraph that is as telling as the one below, which is from a New York Times front-page feature on the crisis and its origins, and how the damage has spread:

On a snowy day two years ago, the school board in Whitefish Bay, Wis., gathered to discuss a looming problem: how to plug a gaping hole in the teachers’ retirement plan.

It turned to David W. Noack, a trusted local investment banker, who proposed that the district borrow from overseas and use the money for a complex investment that offered big profits.

“Every three months you’re going to get a payment,” he promised, according to a tape of the meeting. But would it be risky? “There would need to be 15 Enrons” for the district to lose money, he said.

The board and four other nearby districts ultimately invested $200 million in the deal, most of it borrowed from an Irish bank.

How on earth did we get to a point where a school board in small-town Wisconsin comes to the conclusion that in order to bolster its retirement plan, it should borrow tens of millions of dollars from an Irish (but really German) bank and then invest it in a complex, hedge-fund style investment? In what kind of world does that sound like a sensible thing to do?

Sarah Palin gets pranked by Montreal duo

In case you haven’t already heard about it, I’ve embedded the audio of a prank call involving two Montreal comedians and radio hosts — Sebastien Trudel and Marc-Antoine Audette, who go by the name The Masked Avengers — and the Republican candidate for U.S. vice-president, Sarah Palin. Despite the fact that this prank apparently took four days to put together, and the fact that most political candidates have an elaborate, multi-stage approval process that phone calls and other contacts have to go through, the comedians were able to have a long talk with Palin while doing a bad Parisian accent and pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Even assuming that Palin’s command of French is not that great, this is a pretty embarrassing phone conversation. You can also hear some of the interview here, where there are more than 200 comments.

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