Childhood Obesity and Screen Time

screen timeTurn off your TVA couple of studies recently published confirm what we’ve suspected. Screen time and obesity are positively correlated. And the news gets worse. A study out of Canada found that children from disadvantaged neighborhoods were 3-4 times more likely to fall into these high-risk groups. Another study, this one out of SUNY Buffalo, found that kids whose screen time was reduced lost weight. According to a report in Bloomberg,

Children whose viewing was eventually cut in half ate less, spent less time on sedentary activities and developed a healthier body mass index, a ratio of height to weight. The reduction in screen time didn’t translate into additional physical activity, providing insight into how sitting in front of a television or computer contributes to obesity in children, the researchers said.

Caveat Emptor: The Bloomberg article linked above is an advertisement dressed up as news. The article spends as much space pitching a $100 electronic device called the TV Allowance as it does reporting consumer information. This blurring of PR/Advertising and Journalism is almost as frightening as a 5th grade classroom full of 200 pound screen junkies!

Off the record “[Hillary Clinton] is a monster”

Samatha PowerSamantha Power is no longer an adviser to Barak Obama. Another casualty of the war of words being raged in the quest for the Whitehouse, Ms. Power went a tad too far in her assessment of the Senator from New York–too far, that is, for a spokesperson for the campaign that is trying hard to avoid politics as usual.

As reported by The Scotsman, Power said, “We f***** up in Ohio. In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio’s the only place they can win. She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything.”

Even after issuing a public apology to both Obama and Clinton, and confessing to admiration for the former first lady, Power felt obligated to resign her post.

But what about this on/off the record thing? Journalists will occasionally conduct an interview off-the-record, at the request of the interviewee–if that is the only way the information can be obtained. Although information gathered in this manner is not available to be used directly, e.g quoted or attributed, the information can be used as background research. The Scotsman, the paper that broke the story, includes an explanation of their policy on off-the-record interviews at the end of their story. According to The Scotsman, an interview can only be considered off-the-record, “when the rules are established in advance.” Trying to withdraw a statement made in the middle of an on-the-record interview by saying, “off the record” does not make it so. And according to one source, Power should have known better. As a graduate of Harvard Law School and a journalist herself–who has written for Time Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe, The Economist and The New Republic–Power should have shown better judgment.

BTW, just yesterday Clinton’s communication chief accused the Obama team of “imitating Ken Starr.” When will the name calling stop?  😉

Oprah’s Big Give

Oprah's Big GiveThere’s a new feel-good reality TV show in town. Imagine a cross between The Apprentice, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and The Amazing Race and you’ve pretty much got The Big Give. The similarities with the other reality TV shows are both an admission that certain formulas work, and the fact that the executive producer of TBG is also the executive producer of TAR. The Emmy-winning Bertram von Munster got his start with the long-time reality TV show COPS, but made his mark with the four-time-Emmy-winning Amazing Race. I had a chance to meet von Munster at the BEA/NAB conference a few years ago and was impressed with his producing skills. He has figured out how to create drama without stooping to the contrived interpersonal conflicts so common to the reality TV genre.

Oprah’s Big Give takes individuals who have a track record of service and gives them a chance to change the lives of complete strangers by organizing and coordinating giving campaigns to address their unique situations. Contestants are judged on Creativity, Leadership, Presentation, and the size of their “Give.” Like most reality TV shows, someone loses and is sent packing. In the words of Oprah, “You either give big, or you go home.”

The charity recipients are hard-luck cases that will pull your emotional heart-strings. If you’re at all the sentimental type, you may need a box of tissues when they announce the “gifts” that have been donated. If you like the “reveal” segment of EM:HE, you’ll love this show.

The New Media Presidential Race

cnn_youtube.jpgLooking back at the 2008 Presidential Race historians and media critics are likely to note some dramatic shifts. One is the increased interest and participation on the part of young voters. The second, and clearly related, phenomenon is the use of new media technology by the candidates, their supporters, and their detractors. One example of consumer-generated new media in a supporting role is the We Are The Ones music video by the Black Eyed Peas’ The title comes from Senator Obama’s Super Tuesday speech in which he said, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” On the same website you can upload your photo to contribute to a picture montage of the video.

On a more sinister note, Matt Druge posted an image on his website of Obama in traditional Somali garb. Drudge reported that the photo was sent to him by Clinton operatives, who Obama’s camp accused of fear-mongering.

But these developments are just the tip of the iceberg. A couple of months ago YouTube partnered with CNN for a televised debate…the highlight of which was a question about global warming asked by a snowman! Someone uploaded a parody spot for Obama featuring Senator Hillary Clinton as Big Bro in the classic 1984 spot for Macintosh. And don’t forget Senator John Edwards feeling pretty. Before that was Obama Girl, who is now trying to cash in on her 15 minutes of fame with her own blog. And before her there was Senator George Allen’s “macaca” moment, Dan Rather’s “memogate,” Senator Foley’s sexually explicit emails to pages, Howard Dean’s scream, and the Lewinski affair brought to light by the Drudge Report. New media and politics…its a powerful, and potentially dangerous, combination!

Oscar is turning 80

oscar.jpgSunday night will be the 80th anniversary of the little annual party known as the Academy Awards. The Academy is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences…quite a mouthful…which is why people refer to the show as “The Oscars.” So who is Oscar? Oscar is the name of the 13.5-inch, 8.5 pound statuette that is given to each awardee. According to the AMPAS website the statuette, “depicts a knight holding a crusader’s sword, standing on a reel of film with five spokes, signifying the original branches of the Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers and Technicians.” Approximately 6,000 Hollywood professionals make up the Academy and vote for the nominees.

This year’s host is Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame. Incidentally, Stewart’s show won four Oscars in the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series category since 1999.

The program is sure to have a little something for everyone…including a couple of consumer-generated spots for Dove. And yes, all of you wannabe judges get to vote for the winning spot via text or online.

Speaking of voting, how about trying to predict the winners? Just download and print this ballot. The only thing more fun that sitting on your couch filling out a ballot as you await the start of the show would be sitting in one of the seats in the Kodak theater in Hollywood, keeping it warm while one of the celebrities visits the “powder room.” A couple of hundred “seat-fillers” perform this very valuable function every year…to avoid the embarrassment of empty seats when the cameras shoot the audience. Ah, the vanity of Hollywood!

TV returns to “normal”

With the WGA strike over (at an approximate cost of $2.5 Billion), the TV biz can get back to “bizness.” Here’s a rundown of shows and announced return of new epidsodes:

Saturday Night Live – February 23
Supernatural – April 24
How I Met Your Mother – March 17
Two and a Half Men – March 17
My Name Is Earl – April 3
CSI – April 3
The Office – April 10
ER – April 10
30 Rock – April 10
Scrubs – April 10
Law and Order – April 23
Lost – Five pre-strike episodes already “in the can.” More new episodes to air in late April
House – April or May
Grey’s Anatomy – April or May
Desperate Housewives – April or May
Ugly Betty – April or May
24 – January 2009

Until then, there’s always American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and other reality TV hits! WOOT!

Toshiba throws in the towel

blu-ray_250.gifAcknowledging the inevitable, Toshiba has withdrawn from the next-generation DVD race. Avoiding a protracted fight is probably a good thing…no sense in waging a war that they are almost certain to loose. The parallels drawn between the DVD format war and the VHS Betamax war of the late 70s are striking. This time Sony is coming out on top and their Blu-ray format appears destined to be the defacto standard for high-definition DVD recordings. While the VHS Betamax battle was largely won/lost over recording time and cost, this battle appears to be more about film studio and retail buy-in. Blu-ray was able to secure commitments from many of the leading Hollywood studios. In addition, retail and distribution outlets like Walmart and Netflix jumped on board the Blu-ray train. If you’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop before buying a DVD recorder/player…it looks like you now have one more consumer electronic gadget on which to spend your “economic stimulus” check!

Robocalls and the 1st Amendment

The State of Colorado just shelved legislation that would have restricted robocalls. SB-146, which would have banned most robocalls in Colorado, was killed in committee but may be resurrected next year. In case you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing a robocall first hand, they are the computer generated phone calls that typically are used to conduct surveys and polls, or to disseminate a political message (often attempting to sound like a poll). And robocalls, like email spam, are cheap. According to USA Today, “A robo-calling operation may consist of little more than a personal computer hooked to a DS3 telephone line, which can make 672 calls simultaneously and costs less than $100 per month.”

If you are registered with the “Do Not Call” list you are already protected from commercial phone solicitations, be they made by a person or a computer. But robocalls for non-commercial messages are different…currently there is no opt-out mechanism. In the last couple of years about 9,000 complaints about these automated calls were logged by the office of the Colorado State Attorney General.

Critics of robocalls complain about personal privacy and the intrusive nature of phone calls that interrupt meals and family time at home. But there is another side that should be considered. Political surveys, polls, and other non-commercial messages will be severely restricted if this legislation goes through. Should the First Amendment rights of political parties, local charities, and other not-for-profit entities be curtailed in the interest of personal convenience? While it’s true that telephones have historically been for personal, not public, communication, phones today are much more than that. For now we’ve got some time to reconsider the implications of this legislative action.

Genna Davis on women on TV

davis_prez.jpgGenna Davis, the fictional first woman president of the US, is mad and she’s not going to take it any more. To the point, she’s upset about the portrayal of women on TV. Research conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, on behalf of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, found that the ratio of male to female characters in films (G, PG, PG-13, and R) is 2.71 to one. In addition–even in G-rated films–female characters were often hypersexualized and shown with unrealistic bodies in alluring apparel. Animated female characters were even more likely to demonstrate these attributes than live-action characters.

Content analysis studies such as this one are often the starting point for further research intended to explore the link between media and public health issues such as low self-esteem and distorted body image.  While the existence of unrealistic media portrayals of gender, race, age, etc. are not sufficient for cause-and-effect hypotheses, recognition that the media fun-house mirror provides a distorted view of reality is an important first step.

More information can be found at the Geena Davis Institute website.

Grammy Awards and the WGA Strike

grammy.jpgThe Writers Guild strike is nearly over. A vote is scheduled for Tuesday and it appears that they will be picking up their pencils later this week. Too bad for the producers of the 50th annual Grammy Awards who, although they had brokered a deal to allow the show to proceed, clearly didn’t have the full force of the creative community at their disposal. The music industry is in trouble, and this “celebration” of talent is a sad acknowledgment of that reality. The only thing that may help the ratings this year is that the awards show didn’t have to compete against a new episode of Desperate Housewives!

Ratings Update: The Grammy Awards pulled a 6.9 rating from the 18-49 demo, sharply down from last year and one of the poorest showings ever. Adding insult to injury, the audience was not much larger than that for ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.


  • A Jazz album won Record of the Year once again…only 43 years since the first and only time that has happened.
  • Watching Amy Winehouse is like watching an accident…you can’t help but look.
  • Brad Paisley sang a song about ticks…and I mean the blood-sucking kind.
  • The best line of the night was unscripted…Vince Gill poking at Kanye.
  • And oh yeah, Barak Obama beat out Bill Clinton for the “Best Spoken Word Album” award!

See all the winners at the Grammy website.