(Updated content post-unveil, at bottom)

Just a few hours before the Big Unveil, and I wonder whether Steve Jobs may not be revealing 2 big deals: The iSlate (as I think it should be called) is certainly newsworthy, although I don’t think (or – at least – I don’t hope) it will be the Kindle-killer so many are predicting. It’s probably going to be as different from the Kindle as a Victorinox SwissChamp is from a finely crafted Henckel. It’ll do a lot more, but what the Kindle does, it does so well…That said, I think that the probability of an iTunes store for e-books and e-Mags, with a plethora of already forged publishing house and media organization deals struck, would be a massive piece of news indeed!

As far as the tablet itself, I think the folks at Doghouse Diaries have a pretty good handle on things:

UPDATE (11:00am, Wednesday, January 27):

OK, so I was right, and I was wrong. He’s calling it the iPad (which sounds like a women’s personal health product to me). No big surprises as of yet, but the anticipatory coverage of this product was so intense that it was nigh impossible to present a piece of information that had not been discussed exhaustively by one camp or another. This is certainly an impressive product, however.

I suggest that, instead of being an e-reader killer, it is a Netbook killer. Netbooks have always been essentially little more than shrunken laptops, with reduced functionality to boot! Here’s something that does all that and more. The battery life is impressive (10 hours), but nowhere near the weeks of battery life offered by the Kindle. The functionality blows the Kindle out of the water, but then why buy the Henckel knife in the first place, when you are looking for a multifunction Victorinox?

As I predicted, the introduction of the iBooks store is compelling, and THAT’S where the fire is being lit under the Kindle a***. Bookshelves, categories, ePub, oh my!

I don’t think the “page turning” experience was terribly innovative. I agree with Bezos’ assertion that it is a cop-out to try and replicate the “real book” experience on an e-reader. It is simply a different way of navigating the content, but the essential immersive reading experience is the same (if not better) on a successful e-reading device.

the iWork demo confirms that this device may truly replace laptops for some people, but I don’t think it will be a “laptop killer”. Apple has positioned it well in the “larger than we might have imagined” gap between the mobile phone and laptop.

For $700-900 (including tax and 3G coverage), this is going to appeal to a diversified cross-section of consumers, but none of them are going to be schoolkids and college students in lower income households (a $300 Kindle DX, with ebooks at less than half the price of “real” books, is a much more viable financial proposition, but still a challenge. Will Amazon move on this, or will they fumble?). This is not the device for people who are looking for an alternative to books. This is the device for people who are looking to own and experience the evolution of the mobile technological consumer gaming/communication/application device, to hold and cherish the love child of the laptop and smart mobile device (although, with no telephonic capability of note, it’s not truly the confluence point between laptops and smartphones, and that may be a good thing).

The Apple iPad is an impressive (though not as miraculous or magical as some might have wished) advance in computing and mobile technology. It is a thrilling “next step”, but not quite a “leap”. Unless Amazon mishandles this stage of their Kindle development and market penetration, this should certainly not pose a substantial threat to their goals.

That said, Amazon has goofed up a few times already: first with the “1984” mess, then with the “let’s insult existing Kindle customers by offering them for free to people who have expressed zero interest in them” fiasco, and of course we must not forget all the complaints about the Amazon cover and customer service failures. Amazon has an opening to become the next “Apple”, oddly enough. They have a devoted (but recently abused) fan base. They introduced a new concept in content experience. The Kindle has been birthed at a moment in history when social media and crowdsourcing are growing exponentially. With strong marketing leadership ( I do NOT mean conventional product marketing, but rather cross-functional product/strategic/brand marketing that SHOULD be the purview of all senior marketing leaders), Amazon could retain and enhance its innovator position, all the while recognizing and addressing the fact that it’s no longer enough to appeal to a small tribe of early adopters…

I believe that Amazon and Apple are both sitting in their own respective sweet spots of opportunity, and it remains to be seen which, if either, will successfully manipulate and manage the next few months…

So the new fragrance in town is the just-launched temporary 5th network, the Coco Channel. This fast-growing network has it all.

Legal Dramas: (This video was removed by NBC today, but you can still find it on their site here)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cOIXNTGYIQ]

Historical Documentaries:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKZ1lMtd2NE]

Reality Shows:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PrigUG9M_s]

And, news coverage:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md1PgwkkYU4]

No word yet on who might be available to head the network, but word on the street is that someone may be announced very shortly.

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Following on from my assertion earlier this month that e-reading will become ubiquitous, and for the better, I offer this video excerpt as clear supporting evidence of the attractive potential that is currently crossing the threshold of traditional print publication houses (fiction, news, or otherwise).

In 4 days, it is rumored that Apple will reveal their hand in this market sector – a move which would do much to erase, once and for all, any doubt that eBooks are to print media what mobile devices have been to the landline. How swiftly and enthusiastically publishers and, perhaps more crucially, readers react to these still emerging opportunities will determine more than just the rate of development of the hardware and software surrounding these devices and platforms. It will heavily influence a diverse array of communities: from the literary to the artistic; from advertisers to consumer product marketing agencies; from students and teachers to parents and pundits.

Presently, the cost of an e-book device is still too high for the average citizen, until you calculate the ROI. Consumers were willing to pay $600 for the iPhone, when it was released. The current iteration – considerably improved from the iPhone model of less than 2 years ago – is only $99. Meanwhile, over 3 BILLION iPhone apps have been downloaded, and the device has revolutionized the mobile device industry, as well as consumer behavior habits. Apple has recouped its investment handsomely, and the smartphone (in its many incarnations) is now almost a necessity to a whole generation of users across the world (indeed, in the developing nations it has transformed lives).

Currently, e-book devices cost far less than the early iPhone, and there is no doubt that the price will drop further. Add to this the dramatically lower cost to publish digitally, as well as the positive Green considerations (no ink, no paper, no hard distribution costs, etc), and the value proposition to the purveyor (technology hardware provider, service provider, publisher, writer, et al) is clear. Meanwhile, assuming (perhaps somewhat naively?) that publishers will soon lower the price for eBooks and eMags, in order to make them more digestible to mass market consumers, the value to the reader will be explosive.

As readership grows, so new demographics evolve. As eyeballs become identified, qualified, and quantified, so advertisers begin to salivate. From a commercial perspective, the bonus of e-readership is that metrics are more controllable, and thus businesses are able to connect with and – more importantly – STAY CONNECTED TO the interested consumer. This is where the fun starts:

Today’s magazine advertiser has no way of accurately qualifying the value of their placement, and magazines have to publish thick volumes (see Vanity Fair) just to stay afloat. These tomes are 70% advertising, and 30% editorial, at best. Readers have become inured to this dynamic, and breeze past the mag ads in much the same way as they zip past TV commercials, thanks to the DVR. Now, imagine if – thanks to the eMag – an ad was clickable, promising instant conversion. Imagine if, thanks to the eMag, a product offering could be placed strategically in relation to an article, enhancing the value of that product offering in the mind of the reader, by association (a new type of product placement). The discreet advertising opportunities are vast, and promise untold opportunities to magazine publishers and product manufacturers, and the agencies that creatively connect the two worlds. Then again, if the reader prefers an ad-free experience, why not grant it to them, at a premium? Those publications with higher ad-free readerships can offer lower ad rates, and vice versa. All very measurable, to everyone’s satisfaction.

In the e-Lit universe (the environment wherein electronic literature is ubiquitous), publishers can release a new book and have it in the hands of pre-identified “interested” readers within seconds. The temporal investment required, from a marketing perspective, is greatly reduced; freeing publishers to take more creative risks which will inevitably produce surprisingly powerful “accidents” of literary genius. The greatest works of historical fiction were rarely foreseen as commercially viable products. This emerging dynamic will allow a lot of literature to become a user-driven proposition, virally marketed by the readers themselves. It won’t exclude traditionally vetted works of literature, which can continue to receive the type of robust “upfront” marketing support that publishing houses often manifest. Nor will it erode the support for “hidden gems” of challenging yet worthy literature, which might otherwise not be deemed viable by the publishers, nor initially digestible by the public. Statistics are showing that the field of literary criticism is already evolving to function less as a pre-release prognosticator, but as a post-release adjudicator, still very capable of identifying and championing tomorrow’s Ezra Pound or Thomas Pynchon. e-Literature widens the field of offerings. It does not pretend to, nor can it, expand the readership, in and of itself. It does, however, create a new landscape onto which a wider and more diverse readership now has the opportunity to travel. To those who claim this might dilute the quality of literature, I counter that dilution is only experienced and identified upon imbibing. Consider the following scenario:

10 bottles of wine are put on a table. 2 bottles are of the highest quality ($10 per glass), 2 are of strong  but slightly lesser quality ($6), 2 are of middling quality but eminently drinkable ($5), 2 are of poor quality ($2), and 2 are of varied quality but watered down ($3).

A group of wine aficionados is invited into the room, and each given a $10 bill. They are given a quick taste of each wine, and then asked to “spend the money”. How they choose to “invest” their funds, and subsequently advance their experience of wine, is – in my opinion – a worthwhile allegory for the opportunity facing the reading public. The e-Lit universe will expand the selection of available content, and the quality spectrum will widen and deepen, by extension. The more extensive and more diversified availability of phraseological grapes promises a richer and more rewarding vendange.

I could write a book on the multifarious revenue generation opportunities available via e-publication, but this article must remain within the 1,000-word realm. I look forward eagerly to the imminent delivery of my Kindle DX (delayed due to demand, apparently), fully accepting the likelihood that upon delivery I will be in possession of an already usurped iteration. But if I were to think that way, how sorrowful would be my lot. Imagine living in the latter 16th century and, purely based upon your suspicion that “better plays may come out soon”, you turned down tickets to Titus Andronicus (which, by all accounts, received “mixed reviews” back in the early 1590s). Sure, you might be around when Winter’s Tale came out, and you might get tickets, and from the selective logic point of view, you will have arguably made a better investment. However, what if the tickets you were first offered were to Thomas Kyd’s first play, “The Spanish Tragedy”, and you declined on the same principle. What was then seen, and is argued by many today, as “arguably the most popular play of the “Age of Shakespeare” and set new standards in effective plot construction and character development”*, was Kyd’s greatest work. It was all downhill from there.

I intend to enjoy my Kindle, and upon it I shall read with pleasure many plays, books, articles, magazines, newspapers, and more. When something indubitably superior comes out (and when I have a salary that will permit me the indulgence!), I will replace my lovingly used Kindle with whatever relatively new-fangled gewgaw convinces me of its unquestionable worth.

Following hot on the heels of the recent Massachusetts special election, well-known Chicago author and political humorist Jeremy McGuire has contributed the following:

Open Letter to Both my Liberal and Conservative Friends.

Chill.

To my Conservative friends, You may be feeling right plucky over Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election to fill Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat. Don’t. In the long run, it changes nothing. The conservative function is and always has been one of restraint, of keeping the status quo, of caution. You are what Joseph Campbell calls “the holdfasts.” That said, you must understand that you have chosen to be on the wrong side of history most of the time. You will not win. I know this because you never have. It is not your destiny. There are few progressive social leaps that we as a species have made that were not initially opposed by conservatives, but embraced and defended by them within one or two generations. The arc of history leans toward change, toward progress, toward tolerance, and understanding, decidedly away from the status quo.

It was the influential clergyman and educator Endicott Peabody who said “Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights – then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”

The most obvious examples of your being left behind by history are the abolition of slavery, votes for women, and the dissolution of Jim Crow and the passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964.

What was acceptable, and even embraced a little more than a hundred years ago, colonialism and wars of conquest, are now no longer acceptable. Oh, and there was this little thing called the War for American Independence from England. Yep. Conservatives opposed that one, too. They were called Tories then. Yet now conservatives celebrate Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin as if they were kindred spirits, when in actuality, they would have had them hanged. (Note: All of these gentlemen considered themselves Liberals. Maddening, ain’t it?)

Now, I’m not being critical, those are just the facts, a pattern that is readily discernible to anyone who can step back far enough from the immediate issues and events to see it.
Oh, you may gain ascendancy for short periods, and by that I mean 20 or thirty years, particularly if the people are persuaded that there is much to be afraid of, but it is never lasting. Fear is so fleeting that it cannot sustain your power. Do not allow those ephemeral victories to lull you into a sense of entitlement. You saw what that got you in the last election, right?

So, let’s just accept the fact that you have chosen a role in politics that will never be ultimately victorious. Look around at the social issues that are most prominent now. I mean universal health care, full civil rights for all gays, equality of pay and the like. You won’t win those either. The world moves forward; it does not stay still nor does it move backward. Frustrating? You betcha. But there it is.

So, should you just fold your tent and go hide in the woods somewhere? Absolutely not! Remember, your position is the “hold-back” one. What are you holding back? Why, the Liberals, of course.

Okay, my Liberal friends, now it’s your turn.

Do not gloat. Were it not for the Conservatives, you would run hell-bent-for-leather toward the edge of any number of cliffs, secure in the belief that you could fly! We have seen time and again the good-hearted but wrong-headed policies that have had unintended consequences.
Step back and consider what the term liberal means. Webster says it means “tolerant, open-minded and generous.” That’s as good a definition as I can find. That means you must be tolerant of opposing opinions. You have not often been so. I speak, of course of the late “Political Correctness” which was the very opposite of what a liberal stands for.

In the Seventies, many radical groups began calling themselves liberals. They were not, but true Liberals did not call them on it and so the terms “radical” and “liberal” got confused, by everybody, not just the right.

The most egregious example is the matter of the state’s attitude toward religion. We do not and never have wanted the state to mandate any one religion and so we erect an “impenetrable wall” between the state and religion. However, that was never meant to imply intolerance toward all religion, which in its finest moments enlightens and ennobles us, transporting us from the mundane and profane world into the realms of the sublime (I said in its finest moments!).

The first part of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What does that mean? It means I have the right to pray and display religious items wherever I want. Anywhere. Any time. The Government can’t say squat. Get real. Nowhere does it say that religious expression can be or should be banned. It states exactly the opposite. A Supreme Court ruling that prohibited schools from mandating the prayer of one religion over all others was intended to foster tolerance but has had the exact opposite effect.

If you are indeed liberal, you should not object to nativity scenes on public land; public land belongs to all of the public, even the religious.

However, Conservatives, don’t start preening! Those who wish to express their freedom of religion on public land should note that Wiccans have an equal right to put up display celebrating the Winter Solstice! Are you ready for that?

Okay, that’s an extreme example of unintended consequences. There are others. In any case, you Liberals should be grateful for the Conservatives. If it is true that they have pretty consistently grown to embrace programs they initially opposed, it is also true that without their opposition, you would accomplish very little of any import. Creativity requires obstacles to get over, under, around and through. Without those obstacles, your ideas would never be shaped, sharpened and honed. Conservatives force you to prove your points and in so doing help you make your points.

Lets face it. Both Liberals and Conservatives have been in the past rather intolerant and disrespectful of each others positions. That cannot last. It is an untenable stance and the Republic suffers from it. Both Liberals and Conservatives need to embrace their root principles and expel those who use those terms to practice intolerance, bullheadedness, and downright hatred. Hatefulness, intolerance and disrespect have never accomplished anything except reinforcing those negative qualities to no purpose. A destructive cycle. Don’t allow extremists to assume the names of Conservative or Liberal.

To my Conservative and Liberal friends: Get rid of your nut-jobs.

Jeremy Mcguire is an author/illustrator, humorist and social commentator.

Once again, a volume of rainfall considered “manageably heavy” anywhere else in the world has paralyzed Greater Los Angeles. Today it rained 2.4 inches. That’s a lot of rain, but it’s not End-of-the-World-Where’s-The-Ark levels…unless you live here.

In the Los Angeles area, the wash systems (sewers and drains) are built to accomodate the volume of water generated by a wasteful idiot, too lazy to rake or broom sweep his driveway. You know, that chap who aims his hose at the concrete and stands there watering the sidewalk clean of all those awful leaves…

Anything more than that, or more than the amount of water needed to regularly wash one’s blinged-out SUV (with those great new spinning hub caps), overwhelms the system. Drains backup, and street sides flood. Less than an hour after it began raining today, I drove through a section of town where the cars parked on the side were actually submerged up above the TOP of the wheels!

In the Los Angeles area, there exist a system of dips at most intersections, ostensibly designed to slow vehicular traffic in the same way speed bumps do along residential streets. It works during the other 360 dry days of the year. It works too well when it rains. Giant lakes 12 inches (or more) deep form at these intersections, which sounds fun unless you’re the one diving…uh, I mean driving though it.

In the Los Angeles area, the idea of porous tarmac, white paving, and other sustainability practices simply has not taken hold. Perhaps, one day, someone with some influence might choose to repeat that suggestion about larger drain systems and porous tarmac…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP_Zug2D-tY]

The above footage was taken by a 15-year old boy in the Los Angeles area today. Granted, the issue extends beyond drainage, in to the realm of wildfire prevention and erosion control. The point remains, however, that this is not a new phenomenon!

The forecast calls for heavy rain every day, for the rest of the week.

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JD-About-Town Jonathan Handel shares here some very interesting insights into the NBC/Leno/O’Brien slap fight. For the international reader, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien are two big talk show hosts here in the USA, ostensibly “trapped” in a web of intrigue (others may suggest a quagmire of confused corporate fumbling) surrounding their futures as talk show hosts on that particular network. NBC, one of the USA’s top television networks, brusquely replaced Mr. Leno, former host of the renowned “Tonight Show”, with Conan O’Brien, in an effort to appeal to the prized younger demographic. They secured the demographic, but lost overall viewership. Meanwhile, the consolation prize offered to Mr. Leno, in the form of a prime time talk show, also failed in the ratings (again, some may prefer “was not given enough of a chance”). The Network affiliates revolted, and NBC – just as brusquely – announced an odd reshuffle that led to the current (and apparently soon to be resolved) standoff. For more details, read on!:

That sweet walkaway payday for Conan O’Brien might not be as rich as it sounds. Media such as Variety are reporting that NBC is likely to pay Conan $30 to $40 million to settle out his contract, with a deal to be reached shortly. But what none of the media appear to be mentioning is the two magic words of employment contract settlements: mitigation and offset. Depending on how those terms are deployed, the hit to NBC could be much less than the numbers imply – particularly if Conan scores a deal with Fox for a new show to start in September, as many observers expect.

Here’s how it works. First, as background, the NBC payments are likely to be made over the period of time remaining in his contract – at least, that’s what customary. Conan’s attorneys, agents and manager would probably press for some acceleration though, unless the tax consequences of doing so would be adverse.

In any case, mitigation is the concept that the terminated employee, i.e., Conan, has an obligation to seek other employment. If he fails to do so, the payments from NBC could stop. To protect against this, Conan’s representatives will seek, and may get, a “no mitigation” clause. In that case, the payments would keep coming even if Conan decides to sit on the beach for the next 2-1/2 years (reportedly the remaining term of his contract), though he’s unlikely to want to damage his personal brand name by simply disappearing.

At the very least, though, Conan’s team will argue for no mitigation from now until a new Conan show could feasibly be launched, which is generally assumed to be September, i.e., the beginning of the fall TV season. They’d also probably seek a guarantee that there would be no mitigation if Conan is offered and refuses a show of lesser stature, or one at a lower salary than he was receiving at NBC, or one that reaches too small a percentage of households in the country. In other words, under such contract terms, Conan would be able to refuse a “demotion” without violating a duty to mitigate.

Now on to offset. This is the concept that whatever the employee earns at his or her new job, if any, would be offset against the settlement payments owed by the old employer. This would apply only for the remainder of the old contract. For instance, suppose the agreed NBC termination payment (“liquidated damages,” in legal terminology) is $40 million, and suppose Fox pays Conan $30 million over the next 2-1/2 years. In that case, the $30 million could be offset against the $40 million, and NBC would only have to pay $10 million.

Naturally, Conan’s representatives will seek a “no offset” clause. This would be a hard-fought point, however. NBC would argue that Conan would be getting a windfall and, even worse, that he’ll be cashing those checks while competing against NBC itself. That’s like biting the hand that feeds you, but knowing you’ll get fed regardless.

Here again, there’s a compromise available: Conan and NBC might agree that his salary from the new show would be only partially applicable (i.e., partially offsetable) against the NBC liquidated damages payments. For instance, if 50% of his Fox salary (if he does a Fox deal) were applicable, then $15 million (in the above example) would be applied against the $40 million, reducing NBC’s obligation to $25 million.

On a different note, it wouldn’t surprise me if NBC seeks a non-disparagement clause from Conan. Paying him liquidated damages while he’s getting paid by Fox to bash NBC in his monologue might be too much for the NBC suits to accept.

Of course, this is all speculation. No one’s seen the existing contract, let alone the settlement agreement, since there is no settlement yet (and it’s not clear to me whether NBC would be required to file a redacted copy with the SEC). But it’s easy to see how mitigation and offset amount to a win-win. Those provisions could allow Conan’s people to leak big impressive figures, yet reduce the bite for NBC.

Whether that would be enough to keep heads from rolling at NBC is another subject. If the Comcast deal goes through, under which the cable operator would acquire a majority stake in NBC Universal from corporate parent GE, then I’d expect some hasty departures. Someone might get the ax even if the deal isn’t consummated. (The antitrust division of the Justice Department recently announced they will be reviewing the deal.) Ironically, terminating the responsible executives would probably require NBC to make more contract settlement payments.

Moving Jay Leno to 10:00 p.m. was an understandable experiment. It seemingly kept both Leno and O’Brien in the family, and lower ratings were acceptable to the network, since production costs for five nights a week of a talk show are a lot less than for five nights of scripted dramas.

Unfortunately, it looks like the downside wasn’t evaluated as thoroughly: Leno’s lower ratings at 10:00 meant diminished ratings for 11:00 p.m. local station newscasts, an unacceptable price for network affiliates, for whom the newscasts are a cash cow. Moving Leno back to late night gave NBC one host too many: Leno, O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon and Carson Daly. That’s four hosts for three chairs, and when the music stopped, O’Brien was out. Now, for NBC, it appears time to pay the piper.

Jonathan Handel is Of Counsel at TroyGould and practices digital media, entertainment and technology law.  He is an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law, and his op-ed pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Journal, and the Los Angeles Business Journal. Visit his site at jhandel.com.

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