Top 10 Failures

Along with the major successes of 2008, we also wanted to make note of those technologies, media management strategies, business models, and football teams that fell far short of their intended mark. The following top ten is a bit of a how-not-to guide when it comes to regulating intellectual copyright, introducing a new media platform, or planning a resurgence of the comedy variety hour. While we received a few responses that included beloved shows that were cancelled (Pushing Daisies) or movies that didn’t quite live up to their hype (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), you will find few of these types of responses on the list. We found it difficult to define these items as failures, since cancelling unprofitable but interesting programs and producing mediocre but popular blockbusters is arguably in a network or studio’s best interest. Consequently, as these examples show, the way in which one defines failure (and for whom) bears major implications for the shape of such lists. Along with your thoughts about the members of this top ten, we invite you to share your opinions on our parameters for failure below. Are we too inclusive or exclusive? Are we focused too much on the commercial/industrial aspects of the media? Who and what are we ignoring?

  1. Sarah Palin

    The handling of Sarah Palin’s media image has proved a rich subject for Flow contributors and so we’ll forgo a lengthy discussion here. Instead, see our Sarah Palin Special Feature and Top 10 under 10: Election Edition.

  2. HD DVD

    In an echo of the Betamax/VHS rivalry, Blu Ray vanquished HD DVD early last year. In a February 19th press release, Toshiba, the company responsible for HD DVD, declared to discontinue the failing format:

    We carefully assessed the long-term impact of continuing the so-called ‘next-generation format war’ and concluded that a swift decision will best help the market develop. While we are disappointed for the company and more importantly, for the consumer, the real mass market opportunity for high definition content remains untapped and Toshiba is both able and determined to use our talent, technology and intellectual property to make digital convergence a reality. Atsutoshi Nishida, President and CEO of Toshiba Corporation.

  3. The Broadcast Networks

    CW is less than the sum of its parts and fading fast. NBC has gone from must-see-TV to flailing Heroes, reruns of Friday Night Lights, and Ford’s Knight Rider Hour. Of all its new shows this season, only Kath & Kim is really still going and soon, Jay Leno in his new spot will be five nights a week. (Shawn Shimpach)

  4. The Writers’ Strike

    While not a total failure, the strike was far from a complete success. In return for payment on downloaded and streaming materials, the WGA took losses in areas of DVD residuals, animation, and reality television. (Plus, now all of our current TV DVD box sets look awkward due to a skinny season.) Variety revisits the strike six months after negotiations ended. Flow also dedicated a special issue to the topic back in May 2008.

  5. RIAA

    The Recording Industry Association of America’s late-December announcement of its decision to abandon its practice of issuing mass lawsuits to illegal downloaders wasn’t so much a new failure as it was an acknowledgment of a practice that had been failing for a number of years. As the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article, the RIAA has sued upwards of 35,000 people for downloading music since 2003, resulting in few visible results apart from a “public-relations disaster for the industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl“. The RIAA’s newest plan is supposedly based on cooperation with local Internet service providers in which the ISP will notify costumers in the event of an RIAA complaint and eventually lessen or deny their internet service if the file-sharing persists. To be sure, this is not without its own practical and moral issues, and it has been suggested all along (with ample evidence) that this announcement may not entail much more than lip service. However, if the RIAA continues its ineffectuality vis-a-vis piracy and its alienation of the common consumer through the recession, we might see the entire American music industry at the top of this list of failures in a few years. (Evan Elkins)

  6. The New England Patriots

    The 16-0 team remained largely undefeated in the 2008 playoffs to become the first 18-0 team in NFL history. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the one game they lost all year was the Super Bowl. Down 4 points with close to a minute left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Giant’s quarterback Eli Manning threw a 32-yard pass caught by David Tyree between his hands and his helmet. The yardage gain set up the Giant’s for the game-winning touchdown, forcing the Patriots to play an all-too-proud Goliath to the ultimate underdog. This caught the mainstream sports media (and everyone else) off guard, as ESPN et. al. assumed an undefeated Patriots run to the championship was inevitable. One week you bring Mercury Morris onto Sportscenter to compare New England to the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, the next week you have to completely reevaluate prevailing opinions about Eli Manning. C’est la NFL.
    No less remarkable than the Patriot’s last-minute failure to make good on boasts of invincibility was the Lion’s season-long inability to succeed. The first team in history to go 0-16, the Lion’s lost their last game of the season on December 28th against the Packers. (At least they will get first draft pick come April 25th.)

  7. The Seinfeld/Gates Ads for Microsoft

    There’s a lot of shoe flexing and jokes about how Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld (who got paid $10 million per spot) are richer than you, but very little about the products they’re supposed to promote. The $300 million dollar ad campaign designed to combat Apple’s marketing juggernaut and plug Vista after sluggish sales left many people bored and confused. Microsoft’s decision to pull the ads after a short time in order to enter what it mysteriously termed “phase 2” of its advertising strategy only fueled the media frenzy ridiculing the ads and sparked off rumors about Microsoft’s relevancy to contemporary consumers.

  8. Circuit City

    While the major electronics company officially announced its bankruptcy on January 16th of this year, it floundered dramatically in the last months of 2008. November alone saw the closing of over 150 stores across the nation. Later in December, the retail giant was granted permission to begin spending a $1.1 billion loan that ultimately proved insufficient to save dropping sales numbers and mounting debt.

  9. The Rosie Variety Hour

    Yet another attempt at revamping the 70s variety hour format (Hello, Nick and Jessica Variety Hour), The Rosie Variety Show failed to profit either from 70s nostalgia or Rosie’s appeal to daytime television audiences. The show unsuccessfully presented watered down stand-up (it’s okay to talk about how cute kids are during a daytime talk show, but an evening special is a time to put the kids to bed early). Furthermore, the onslaught of NBC guest stars turned the show into a marathon network infomercial. If I only wanted to watch the stars of 30 Rock, I would watch the series. And I will leave on the same note that The Rosie Variety Show did: Gloria Estefan singing as Rachel Ray dances across the set with a giant turkey (enough said). (Tiff Henning)

  10. Satellite Radio merger between Sirius and XM

    As one of our contributors puts it, “Never mind monopoly, this was too little, too late, too expensive, and too restrictive–why not avoid the hassle and stream internet radio over your iPhone? Plus XMU went considerably lame as a result.” (Shawn Shimpach)

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