Brave new cyberworld

We live in heady technological times. It wasn’t long ago that there was life before the World Wide Web, life before e-mail, yet it’s difficult even for those of us who somehow managed to struggle through that life to remember it. Blogging and podcasting are so new, yet already so ingrained in our cyberculture. But not only are the companies that could benefit most from new media technologies not leading the charge, they are actually proud to be bringing up the rear.

Because I am a nauseating evangelist for their show every chance I get, I will balance things out by picking on Fox and their online marketing for House as a small example.

Designed – though not well – entirely in Flash, the website loads painfully even without a dialup connection. Worse, it’s updated infrequently, giving no reason for fans to return. Cases in point: though the first season DVD was announced weeks ago, it still isn’t mentioned on the site, and “this week’s poll” has been up for months … and refers to the potential love interests of Hugh Laurie’s cranky Dr. House as “girls”. The writing is amateur and sloppy, with episode summaries both giving away every plot twist and misrepresenting the content of the show – not by ramping up the drama, but by plain getting things wrong. With a decided lack of flair and poor sentence structure to top it off. As Dr. House might say, this job could be done by a monkey with a copy of Dreamweaver.

In addition, the site has been collecting e-mail addresses for a “Fan Club” since its debut in Fall 2004, but apparently nothing has been sent to this group. No details on upcoming episodes, no news on site updates, no bulletin about the show being picked up for a second season, no announcement about the DVD release. Who knows what else they’ve done with those e-mails they’ve gathered, but what a wasted opportunity to create a sense of community and loyalty among a core group of online fans, happily willing to be spammed with House news and maybe spread the word.

Shouldn’t a giant media conglomerate be able to put out a great website and e-mail campaign that generates more buzz about one of their hottest shows? Shouldn’t they have access to some of the best designers, writers, and marketers our ad money can buy?

To cast a wider net of shame, Fox isn’t alone in their Luddite-wannabe tendencies. Networks and studios are expending a lot of energy to fight illegal downloads of their products, but are doing little to feed the obvious hunger for electronic distribution. Why not take a page from the also-slow-to-react music industry and offer content online, for a fee or supported by advertising? The BBC is experimenting with legal downloads (see article here). The demand exists. Now we need more networks to put some imagination behind today’s technology and be at the vanguard of change, instead of monkeying around with poorly executed websites. This isn’t the future, Fox and friends – it’s the present.

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“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”
George Bernard Shaw
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