DAVID BIANCULLI

Founder / Editor

ERIC GOULD

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LINDA DONOVAN

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NOEL HOLSTON

 
 
 
 
 
Can I Be Trusted to Accept -- and Decline -- Ads? I Need Your "P.O.V."
June 22, 2008  | By David Bianculli
 
I need your help. If you're a regular reader of this website -- or any member of the print, electronic or online media or academic community -- I'm looking for guidance. I'm embarking on a path that may be unprecedented, and may also be foolish. But since this newly blazed trail is dependent entirely upon your trust in my opinions, I figure I should solicit, and trust, youropinions as well.

When I launched TV WORTH WATCHING last November, the day my farewell TV column was published in the New York Daily News, I included a pledge for the future. I would never accept ads from any show or network I didn't like, and the acceptance of any ad wouldn't dictate how, or whether, I wrote about, that show or network in the future.

At the time, that was just a theory. But now, unless I'm overruled by public opinion, it's about to become reality. The folks at the PBS documentary series P.O.V. approached me a few months ago about running an ad on my site, keyed to the June launch of their 21st season. We struck a deal, my website guy inserted it on the right side of the page as our inaugural ad (thanks, Rich!), and it's been running all month. Check it out and poke around... but, please, finish reading this first.

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Because the season premiere, Katrina Browne's Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, is televised tomorrow night at 10 ET (check local listings), I figured now was the time to defend my decision to accept advertising -- and to seek advice on how to proceed in the future.

First, and very important (at least to me), this never was intended as a nonprofit enterprise. I've been writing best bets daily, and columns (a.k.a. blogs) five days a week, for eight months now, for no salary -- and my Daily News wages, at the same time, have vanished into the "no salary" category also. Making the site subscription-based was something I'd never consider -- anyone who cares enough about my opinion to seek it out has me in their debt already, not the other way around.

But ads from programs and networks I support critically anyway, that's another thing. Except for my column/blog, which addresses anything relevant about television, TV WORTH WATCHING -- by design and nature as well as by name -- is meant to identify and champion the best. The best shows, the best DVD releases, the best books about TV, even the best theme songs. In an Internet universe where so much is so negative, the aim here is to celebrate the positive.

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To me, it makes sense that the ads should reflect that same sensibility. You might find an ad for NBC's 30 Rock on this site, but you'll never find an ad for the same network's Celebrity Circus. It all comes down to personal taste on my part, and trust on your part. Trust in my ability to keep advertising and editorial separate, and trust in the consistency and honesty in my body of work.

Here's the deal. I worked as a TV critic on daily newspapers from 1975 until last November. Time and again, over the years, there have been occasions where appearances of impropriety have been raised, confronted and tested. My favorite was when I had it written into my contract at the New York Post, when it was owned by Rupert Murdoch, that I had editorial independence when it came to story selection and the content of my reviews.

So when Murdoch launched the Fox network and sent one show after another down the pike, I hated them all, and said so in his flagship New York paper. Hated them all, that is, until Fox developed The Tracey Ullman Show and its spinoff The Simpsons, which I adored from the start. That may not have gotten me on Murdoch's Christmas card list (in fact, it didn't), but readers, I hope, decided over time I could be trusted.

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I still love The Simpsons, which is now approaching its 20th year. There aren't that many TV critics still working who were around to review that first Christmas special in 1989, and that's the other reason I'm hoping to have built enough residual goodwill to support the concept of advertising.

If you've read this site with any regularity, my tastes should be fairly transparent. I gravitate towards smart dramas, smart and silly comedies, and, because I also love movies, tend to mix in an old black-and-white classic among my nightly recommendations. But what I hope I bring to the Internet, which a lot of bloggers don't, is a professionalism that comes from more than three decades of watching, and writing about, TV. My own output, over the years, is the standard to which I ask, and hope, to be judged.

That means, when I write about about the first handful of programs in the new season of P.O.V., it isn't because of any ad. It's because I've taken the time to see all five programs. All of them, by coincidence or design, have to do with race or class, and past or present injustices inflicted on various minorities. And each documentary, in its own way, is stirring and disturbing. (I'll review the season opener in more detail tomorrow.)

P.O.V., in a way, is the perfect test case for advertising on this site, because the series premiered in 1988 -- predating even The Simpsons -- and I reviewed it positively from the start. I don't keep every clip from those days (a lightning strike saw to that), but I do have two 1990 reviews, from my New York Post days, calling P.O.V. "a pointedly, almost defiantly, subjective showcase" and "intriguing and indispensable."

Like any anthology showcase, P.O.V. has had its ups and downs, and my thumbs have gone up and down accordingly. But anyone who thinks that, back in 1989 and 1990, I was supporting P.O.V. because I envisioned -- a mere two decades down the line -- that there would be an Internet, I would have a website, and P.O.V. would be ripe for the ad-revenue plucking -- is even more insane than I am for starting TV WORTH WATCHING in the first place.

But I believe in quality television, and P.O.V. easily, proudly qualifies. I hope I've done enough -- in print, in books, on the radio, even on the web -- to establish credibility as I shift into this scary new medium. The question is -- and it's a question that's anything but rhetorical, so please weigh in -- am I right?

And if not, can anyone suggest a workable Plan B?

 

31 Comments

 

henri said:

Ads pay the bills. If you feel comfortable with a specific ad on YOUR site, then I'm happy to take a look at it.

Off the top of my head I can't think of another site that selects which ads to run (most are google keyword ads or similar mechanism - ie selected by the ad agency).

I read your blog via the RSS reader on google reader and click through daily to see the list of TV WORTH WATCHING, so I'll be seeing the ads 5 times a week. Knowing that you are vetting them increases their value in my opinion.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 2:07 AM


Roy said:

Hi David,
I think having ads or related TV ads on your site/blog are fine. Most readers should recognize ads and will not hold you responsible for ads you run on your site as they would realize that you are running a business and not a nonprofit. If you can be selective about your ads on your site even better which would add to the overall quality and trust of your site. After reading your blog and listening to your pod casts on NPR (btw it would be great to have these posted on your site), you are a great resource for the TV community with regards to providing insight and commentary to current and upcoming TV programs.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 2:16 AM


Avi said:

You have an amazing amount of credibility. P.O.V. is a show that I would expect you to review, even before you started advertising for it. I believe I remember a great review of a frontline documentary of yours a few months back that led me to a pleasant experience. I and I assume all of your other readers trust you very much to remain unbiased in your reviews. Stop questioning yourself and thank you for the dedication, end of story.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 3:09 AM


Tom said:

Dave,
Perhaps I'm jaded on this, having worked in a few agencies as well as on a couple of mediocre papers, but setting yourself up as a filter seems to be an awful lot of unnecessary work.
First thought: Most people a long time ago made the distinction between ads and the media they support. Do you think less of "The Simpsons" if Billy Mays starts screaming about the merits of OxiClean during a break? Was "St. Elsewhere" worse if Wisk bought a spot for a "ring around the collar" ad during that hour? Or, from another POV, was the New York Post made any better because an ad for a great PBS series happened to be placed next to the jump of the "Headless Man in Topless Bar" story?
Second Thought: What about a TV series that has a great first year, during which you accept its ads, and a rotten subsequent year, after most of its creative staff leave for better deals? Opposite case also presents a problem: Rotten first season, followed by one in which creativity blooms at last?
Third Thought: Including even pop-up ads, how much Web advertising do you notice, much less read? Case to consider: some programs are buying ads that make you pass through them to get to the site (I'm certain there's some clever advertising name for these annoyances). How often do you stop for the trap?
Final thought: You're a first-rate critic and even a better writer. You're not a charity. You put a lot of time into this site, and part of the motivation has to be to pay the bills. (Your home-insurance premium has to be a crusher in itself, considering the New Jersey versions of plagues and pestilence you've survived.)
Your site attracts thinking people who care about good television. They are as unlikely to abandon you because of an ad as a media buyer for a rotten TV show is likely to recommend your site for an ad buy.
And should some nitwit make such a buy, give the money you make from it to a favorite charity.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 7:00 AM


John Cox said:

I guess I don't quite understand the moral struggle that you are having with ads. Your work at the newspaper was supported by ads (many of which I am sure did not fit your taste) and subscriptions. Just like at the paper, you have fixed costs as well as costs for your time.

I think the bigger problem for you is that most folks are immune to ads, or run software such as adblock plus which filters them completely.

Just some thoughts, and good luck!

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 7:06 AM


Bernie Langer said:

I'm not sure it's right that the only ads are for shows you review well. That could create the impression that you only review the show well because they provide support for your website (even if we trust you that that isn't the case). I think if only increases your credibility to write a bad review for a show advertised on your own site.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 7:41 AM


Jack Cheng said:

I have two comments.

1. I actually feel that you should not choose which ads you take. By doing so, I think you are crossing the line between editorial and marketing that has you tangled in ethical knots. If Celebrity Circus was foolish enough to advertise on your site, I would be surprised. And if you then trashed it, I would be assured of your independence. Would that forever alienate NBC? Doubt it. They'll come back with ads for the last season of BSG.

I think you need to run your business as a business, and keep the writing separate. Different companies advertise in the New Yorker and in the Enquirer; I think the TV shows (and networks) will figure out the audience of your blog soon enough.

2. I read your blog through Google Reader. That means I rarely see your actual site, unless I come over to write a comment.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 8:53 AM


Joe said:

I say, trust your judgment and do it. I'm already a fan of this site, and addition of ads for quality tv won't detract from value. Besides, I'm already numbed to ads by the sheer volume and inanity of them.
Keep up the good work, Dave.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 9:16 AM


HendrikVonDresden said:

Of course you should sell ads, but it seems foolish to restrict them to shows and networks you endorse. It also seems like unnecessary pandering to your readers. We can think for ourselves. If we read what you've got to say, and do so regularly, then we're savvy consumers of television. Any network or ad person dumb enough to advertise crap on your site deserves what they get. But, you know, you could run into a lot of trouble (not to mention unnecessary work) restricting your ads to shows you've approved.

Further, why restrict ads to TV shows and networks? Make the most of what you've built here, and sell ads to anyone who wants to buy them. Give them the freedom of speech, and give yourself the chance to earn your just rewards.

I'd devote more time to making my case, but the smart choice is so obvious it doesn't merit an extended argument.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 9:36 AM


Japhy said:

One of the wonderful things about blogs is that they provide self promotion for people who have some expertise of what they write about. I read several science blogs daily and the occasional political and tech blogs too. Yours is the only television blog I read daily. The thing about these other blogs is that it makes internet stars out of teachers, scientists, writers, techies, and political junkies and they can often transcend into other media such as television and podcasts (that would be a great addition to your site!). For most of these people, that is their greatest return on investment and the advertising comes second.

You are different than most of the other blogs that I read because you've come into this already established with a long career and with a great gig on Fresh Air. I see nothing wrong with you accepting advertising from anyone because you certainly should, and do, have the trust of your readers that you wouldn't do anything unseemly and therefore discredit yourself. I mean, you gotta eat!

I followed you over from the Daily News and I have been rooting for you to have great success with this site. Judging from the comments you receive, it's hard to tell just how much traffic you get. Based only on my "expertise" as a blog reader and peruser of the web, I would suggest a little quicker reply system or even a moderated message board so that people feel more connected when visiting the site. Secondly, network with other blogs and link blogs that you respect and read to drive up your readership. I would imagine more hits would lead to a higher degree of selectivity to which advertisers your run on your site. Keep up the good work! (Thanks for the support, the kind words, and the solid advice. -- David B.)

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 10:21 AM


Kate Green said:

First, I enjoy your site very much. I read your columns in The Daily News for many years and you have helped me make intelligent viewing choices, especially when my time is limited. In order to continue you website, you need to accept ads to provide income. I admire your principles in choosing the ads which show a thoughtfulness on your part (similar to investors choosing companies which first do no harm). However, even if you accepted ads for any of the awful summer reality shows, I would not be tempted to watch them.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 10:36 AM


Phillip R. Crabb said:

I think those of us who have found our way here after following your columns for many years will not have any issues with advertisements or other revenue aspects of this site, as the integrity of your reviews is certainly no discovery.

What draws me here is your frank appreciation of good TV, and your shared appreciation of 'our' golden age, a time when everyone gathered to watch the evening news, and Saturday mornings had new first-run programming every year, and you couldn't wait to get the Fall Preview issue of TV Guide.

Whatever it takes to maintain this enjoyable collaboration is okay here....

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 10:50 AM


jan said:

Ever since I started reading your blog (after hearing you several times on "Fresh Air"), it has become one I check daily for recommendations on what to watch. While I understand those who say go ahead and accept advertising from everyone, I appreciate that you would prefer to accept advertising from only those shows you recommend. Because I love movies, books, and music, I have no problem recommending those I like, but I do annotate the lists I make so that someone else whose taste is not like mine has at least a warning. On the other hand, I'm not getting paid for distribution of these lists of must see, must read, or must hear items. I guess as long as your advertisements are clearly marked as such, and that it is made quite clear that ads don't necessarily mean recommendations unless you specify that somewhere else, there's no problem. Then readers can choose to ignore the ads if they want to. (I'm rather new to the blog, by the way, but I now read it every day, and I especially liked that you recommended "The Singing Detective" -- one of my personal favorites. Keep up the good work and the thoughtful recommendations. One last comment--I have problems with contrast, and I have had a TERRIBLE time getting the text right for the submission. Hope this one works! (It works just fine. Thanks! -- David B.)

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 11:16 AM


Kevin said:

I see no issue in you accepting ads from TV shows. I would only suggest it be clear it is an ad and not made to look like part of the site. I am not saying you would do this, but that is the only instance I would think it was shady.

It would become painfuly obvious if you began shilling for advertisers, so I don't think that would be an issue.

I feel the same about Box sets if someone wants to pay you to advertise the complete series of Cavemen, well bless their little hearts. Now if you start telling me Cavemen is a missed classic, then I will become cynical.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 11:51 AM


Harry said:

I have no problem with respect to your acceptance of advertisements. Consumers and readers do understand that ads pay the bills.
Furthermore, consumers and readers do realize that running an advertisement in any media (newspapers, magazines, television, the web, etc.) does not imply that such media endorses the advertiser's product.
Your track record proves that you are a professional, and that your articles and columns have never been influenced by advertisers. Those of us who are faithful readers (going back to your days as a newspaper journalist) have followed you to your website because of your honesty and integrity, and because we trust you (and because of your excellent writing).
Accordingly, I see no reason for you to refuse to accept ads,and thus your website ought to accept ads (even for those programs that you may not like).
If you do decide to accept advertisements, it will not change my opinion of your articles and reviews. I will continue to be a faithful reader of your website.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 12:39 PM


Patrick said:

Any ads within your pages are fine. Any you personally endorse are even more acceptable. My only reservation occurs if those ads turn into pop-ups, move to block the text, or make noise. Those three things drive me crazy, and I'm sure you have some pet peeves as well.

As a reader of your website and listener to Fresh Air, I have grown to respect your opinion and recommendations; advertising will not alter my opinion. (Whatever happens, I promise no pop-ups. Or is it pops-up? -- David B.)

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 1:25 PM


Gregg B said:

I think as most of your readers have said, you provide intelligent and thoughful comment that is rarely found in newspapers, let alone the internet. You are running a business here. Even the news programs on the major networks which are supposed to be "unbiased" shill for every drug under the sun. Then they have a report on those same drugs. Not for profit "unbiased" Consumer Reports has a click through to buy the rated products on-line. I really don't think you need to pick and choose, we'll do that. To paraphrase the catchline to a very disreputable news agency,"You report, we'll decide." We trust your commentary, we wouldn't be here if we didn't.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 1:32 PM


Cathy said:

I think you should proceed and trust your instincts moving forward. The only thing I would request is that your site handle ads in a non-annoying way as the current POV ad does--off to the side. I loathe ads that drop down in front of my content or wipe the screen or do some other wild incantation. It's a real turnoff for me.

Keep up the good work, David.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 1:40 PM


Jeff Prescott said:

As another reader said, you have the credibility.
My concern is that you make enough money to do what you want/have/love to do.
I know you'll make the ultimate ethical decision.
We know you won't sell out to anyone.
I'm okay with anything you do.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 1:44 PM


Marlark said:

Run the ads that pay the most and let the chips fall where they may.

If Apple wants to run AppleTV ads, run them (you should give Apple's ad agency a call, I bet the demographics match up).

If AT&T wants to run U-verse IPTV ads, run them.

And if Fox wants to run ads for "Dancing with the Emotionally Scarred Yet Oddly Pampered/Carefully Starved Housewives of Boca Raton", run them.

Your talent, credibility and integrity are what will sustain the value of your site.

My only caveat would not be for your readers, but for your advertisers. You should include language in every insertion order and every "vendor agreement" that "...advertiser acknowledges that placing ads on this site in no way influences non-advertising content and that in fact, at the publishers discretion, a negative review of the advertiser's product, service or entertainment program may appear if the product, service or program is, in the publisher's judgement, really sucky."

The truth is, your readers won't be looking at the ads to determine what TV is Worth Watching, they'll be reading your content. Besides, if something being advertised was worth watching, they would've read about it on the site.

The only ads not to run are those that detrimentally affect the quality of your brand (i.e. you and your site). Increasing the size and pleasure of your mortgage and ads about a certain Nigerian prince with a finder's fee come to mind.

You should feel good about the tried and true division of advertising and editorial. It's been around because it works.

(Even though I'm sure PBS will put you on their Christmas card list this year.)

Bring on the ads! Show you the money!

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 3:18 PM


Robert said:

Like the others who wrote in, I have no problem with your accepting advertising on the site - and your response to Patrick promising no pop-ups was just what I was hoping to hear! I think you have proven to your loyal readers what your taste in television programs are, and am sure that we won't read a "must watch" blog regarding "Celebrity Circus" anytime in the future just because NBC paid for an advertising spot...

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 3:30 PM


Jim said:

I think you should run any ads as long as the check clears and the content of the ad is not objectionable. I'd appreciate if the ads don't contain popups or start yelling at me even if I don't click on them. Otherwise, ad revenue is good.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, don't worry about the perception of conflicts with advertisers. Your friends will understand that you're not compromised and your enemies won't believe that you aren't compromised by something else even if you aren't running ads. (I swear, I must have the most literate readers on the entire web. Not only are all your points and suggestions better than mine, but your writing is, too, and now you're quoting Twain. Sigh. Thanks, everyone. -- David B.)

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 4:01 PM


Tanya said:

It would be silly for any readers to think that you should do your blog for a living without having any source of revenue. I would much rather you take on ads than beg for money every few months - like public radio and TV :p
When you worked for a newspaper, you were essentially taking on advertising indirectly (probably without any input as to who advertised on your page).
On top of that, I read your posts in Bloglines so I almost never see ads anyway. Keep up the great work!

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 4:54 PM


Ron Casalotti said:

In all my years of producing online media, it is clear that people don't necessarily hate ads -- they hate ads that are irrelevant to them. Certainly, ads that are relevant to your audience will be received justly, regardless of your opinion of the shows involved.

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 5:34 PM


Donald said:

Banner ads are so common I frankly have become indifferent to them. If you can pay the bills without having scary dancing ladies or obnoxoius pop up, pop over, pop behind, drift through ads--go wild. I like the site, I miss the column. I still miss Lars too.


peace

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 6:09 PM


Elizabeth said:

I have enjoyed reading your site for months now after hearing it mentioned on Fresh Air. As a fellow discerning TV consumer that loves the medium, I turn to your site for excellent reviews and recommendations. Ads are a part of life, and I'm glad that you are willing to vet them all for us, although I could completely understand if you took any ad.

Keep up the great columns, this college student loves reading them. (And maybe because I teach college, I love being read by college students. Thanks. -- David B.)

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 7:20 PM


kat said:

Pay the bills, get the ads....I'd much rather you spend your time on the reviews

Comment posted on June 23, 2008 9:58 PM


lucy said:

Of course you should accept ads. For good shows, bad shows, movies, toothpaste, shoes, tires or anything else to pay the bills. Checking your daily recommendations has become a habit, so I'd probably tolerate an occasional 'watch to enter' ad. I also don't mind glancing at a static ad at the side of the page on a free website. Just make sure TV shows are clearly marked as advertisements (POV is not) and please, no noisy pop ups or annoying animations dancing across the page!

Comment posted on June 24, 2008 12:29 AM


Sally W. said:

It's understandable why you'd want to have ads - income's a factor for any venture - and then it's a matter of comfort level: do you want the ads to be something you'd endorse, to be of quality, or something else entirely (with the disclaimer that the ads' products or services are stuff you endorse - various newspapers probably make that claim easily). I won't be offended by the ads, so long as it doesn't take up too much distraction from the substance. I despise pop up ads for that reason - too distracting. I can't believe they generate much profit, but I'm no expert on that!

I'm aware that within the past couple of years, PBS grappled with the issue of sponsorship/supporters - at least, I remembered it was an issue as covered by the NY Times when Chipotle did quite a promo for a food show on PBS. I think for non-profits like PBS the ad issue can be touchy, because they want to preserve their mission as non-profits. It's harder to say the same for the web overall though, regardless of the profit/non-profit nature of an entity owning a website, because it does take some amount of money to keep things running well.

Personally, I think ads promoting "POV" or other PBS shows are good things -- then again, I'm a big PBS supporter. The other night, I enjoyed watching "Inspector Lewis" on "Masterpiece Mystery" (so miss the days when "Mystery" was its own series! - but consequences happen when Masterpiece Theatre/Mystery lost the support of Exxon/Mobil) and I preferred watching "Great Performances" broadcasting ballet over any of the "So You Can Dance" stuff on FOX. I have cable, but I still find myself gravitating toward PBS during the summer for better quality tv.

As a side note perhaps, but I also note that I still turn to the pro critics like you and others to help discern what's good versus what's not. It's harder for me to enjoy the NY Daily News because there's less critics to get opinions about the arts. Despite the trends these days that seem to be moving away from pro critics, I still prefer to hear out the trusted, credible and knowledgeable critic to figure out all the excess of stuff out there!

Comment posted on June 24, 2008 2:34 AM


Rachael B said:

My vote is yes--do accept the ads you are comfortable with, and don't feel guilty. We, the people who check your site regularly for tv recommendations will overlook it and..those of us who are self-employed know how difficult it is to fly solo--especially in the early years...it's okay, we know you are legit...and thanks for the great tips that have led to really entertaining evenings! loved Graham Norton the other night!

Comment posted on June 24, 2008 2:51 AM


Jimmy Straightline said:

Mr. B.,
As long as you continue to hold yourself to the standard set by your "own output over the years" you will continue to have my respect, admiration and appreciation.
Your internet pal,
Jimmy Straightline

Comment posted on June 29, 2008 3:00 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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