National / International News
I recently curled up with some back episodes of "Scandal," ABC’s rather addictive show about crisis manager Olivia Pope, who often works for and is generally in love with the president of the United States.
Toward the end of season three, there was some high drama with the first family, right before a big live interview – when we paused for a commercial break.
An instrumental version of Billy Joel’s “My Life” played and this took over the screen:
At first, I barely noticed Larry or the blue-eyed woman in ads for the prescription eye drops Restasis, but both ads and a handful of others kept rotating through every commercial break across nearly four straight episodes.
“That’s a very common experience these days,” says Jim Nail, an analyst with Forrester Research. “That when you’re watching TV programs that are streamed either from the network streaming app or some other service, that you see the same ads over and over and over again.”
Nail says part of the problem is that the services and advertisers haven’t caught up with the way viewers binge-watch shows online – seeing Larry a few times in one episode isn’t a big deal, but, as I found out, string a few shows together and his presence can become irritating.
Nail says a bigger reason for the repetition is that there’s still a shortage of online advertisers. That's because ratings and demographic data about digital audiences doesn’t yet mirror the kind of data available for television audiences.
“There aren’t enough advertisers comfortable buying [online] to follow the model of broadcast television, which is 17 minutes of commercials an hour, which means 34 advertisers, give or take,” says Nail.
In contrast, an online show might only have a handful of advertisers, which keeps Larry and his online peers busy.
The growth in online video content also means lots of work for Larry, says Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.
"You've got this volume of video that's just extraordinary," says Chiagouris.
Digital video advertising dollars are also climbing — 20 percent in 2013 — but "the amount of video that's available to be sponsored is probably five times that."
While there’s tons of content available online these days, Anna Bager, with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, notes that the amount advertisers actually want to buy is still relatively small.
In other words: Larry has standards. He probably doesn’t want to be next to someone’s shaky homemade YouTube videos.
“The inventory is scarce so advertisers tend to want to buy all of the inventory,” she says. This can include sponsorships, where ad spots might be sold to one or a limited number of advertisers.
However, Bager and Chiagouris agree there’s another reason for at least some of the repetition. Advertisers want to make sure their message gets through to distracted viewers who might be checking email, clicking around the internet or generally trying to avoid ads.
“Advertising is usually annoying, I think we kind of know that,” says Bager. “We may be incredibly annoyed with Progressive because their ad keeps showing up and it’s kind of an annoying ad in general, but when we want to buy insurance, we know that Progressive is an insurance company.”
Similarly, viewers might remember Larry and decide to open an account with Merrill Edge if they’re in the market for a similar product in the future.
Of course, they could also retain negative feelings toward Larry and decide to go with one of his competitors instead.
"I think generally advertisers instinctively believe that over-exposure to the same ad, the same night, with the same hour -- things like that -- run the risk that people are just going to feel completely bombarded and their attitudes will turn negative," says Forrester's Nail.
As the U.S. presses on with airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, two teams tackled the motion "Flexing American Muscles In The Middle East Will Make Things Worse," in the latest Intelligence Squared debate.
There's a star witness in a big trial today.
You've heard of him: Timothy Geithner. The case: AIG shareholders, including former CEO Maurice R. Greenberg, are suing the Feds, saying they feel cheated by the terms of the bailout in 2008.
Didn't Henry Paulson testify yesterday?
Yup. Then-Treasury Secretary Paulson testified. He said the AIG bailout deal was "punitive." AIG made risky bets, he said, and its shareholders deserved to be punished for them. The key was to send a message to Wall Street: "Just so you know, we are not the Santa Claus of easy bailouts. If you come and ask for one, the terms will be harsh." Okay, that's a made-up quote.
So why does this testimony matter?
Because Paulson was not the key player in regards to details of the AIG bailout. Geithner, then-head of the NY Fed, was. He's the big witness this morning, says Columbia law professor John Coffee, and the guy Greenberg's lawyer (one David Boies) really wants to grill.
Oh yeah, the bailout.
Recall: in the fog of the banking crisis, the Feds realized AIG was in big money trouble. Why? AIG was the insurance company for banks that bought risky subprime loans. If those loans defaulted, AIG was on the hook. (five-dollar word: credit default swaps).
What's the AIG shareholder beef?
The Feds were overly mean, they say, and they punished us too harshly. Or, in legal-speak, they took control of AIG without "just compensation" - a Constitutional no-no.
- In return for $192 billion in loans, we got hit with a 14 percent interest rate. Beltway loan sharks.
- The feds took an 80% stock share in the company.
- We got these harsh terms, but the banks got paid back 100 cents on the dollar for their risky investments. How come only we sat in the barber chair for the haircut?
What do AIG shareholder want?
Led by former CEO Greenberg, they are suing for $40 billion in compensation.
What's the counter-argument against AIG?
We needed to punish you, because you took bad risks. But we needed to save the banks because the financial system was on life support. That's the job of the Federal Reserve.
What role did Geithner play?
He ran the NY Fed, which engineered the details of the whole bailout.
Geithner argues – in his recent book, "Stress Test" – that the government had no choice. If they hadn't bailed out AIG, it would be ruined the economy. His NY Fed has also been accused of hiding the terms of the 100% payments to the banks that bought AIG default insurance.
How could Geithner's testimony impact?
“If the evidence that comes out in the case shows that there was a big misfire at the fed, then congress may react and change the way that the Fed does business,” says Georgetown finance professor Jim Angel.
Public reaction to the government's bailouts of large financial institution during the financial crisis was so negative says Angel, that when congress passed Dodd-Frank it reduced the fed’s ability act. New restrictions, he says, could be key in a future crisis.
Why do we care, again?
In litigation, there's this thing called discovery where each side has to "open its kimono" to the other. Lawsuits are all about getting to the bottom of things. And observers are hoping that this lawsuit could get to the bottom of the financial crisis. Angel says “There’ve been a lot of studies of the financial crisis, but do we really know what happened?”
His answer: not really. He hopes this lawsuit could reveal facts that we don’t know, we don’t know about how the crisis and the bailout of AIG occurred, as well as a potential answer to the “Watergate question” - what the Fed knew and when it knew it.
“I don’t think you’re going to learn dramatically new information," he says. "You may hear snippets, emails anecdotes that support both sides."
There are two opposing points of view on how the government handled AIG’s bailout, notes Coffee.
“One side said it was done to prevent financial contagion and panic. The other side says it was done to achieve a backdoor bailout of large banks you wouldn’t dare to fund directly and publicly,” he says.
Coffee’s opinion: the court won’t decide to oversee or restrain financial regulators. Those new regulations, he says, already exist – thanks to Dodd-Frank. But Georgetown’s Angel takes a different view.