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“This Automated Life” – a Webby Talk

Artificial Intelligence – AI – What’s the future for it? What’s happening now? Will robots and computers eventually begin to understand all of our personal preferences and make decisions for us? Some of these changes – some ominous, some pleasant – are already happening, affecting areas like commerce, culture, security, and entertainment, to name a few, yet the future isn’t as dystopian as one might expect.

Perhaps in honor of my presence, a cat picture was used early in this presentation

I had the pleasure of attending a presentation Thursday night at General Assembly’s NYC HQ titled “This Automated Life”, hosted by Webby Media Group CEO David-Michel Davies. He opened the forum by asking how the audience would think one could identify a picture of a cat – an easy task for most humans, but difficult at times for artificial intelligence to comprehend if the picture isn’t framed in an ideal form. Davies pointed out this challenge isn’t unique to just cat pictures, as plenty of examples exist across social media where even the eye struggles to distinguish at first glance between mops and shaggy dogs, or croissants and cats.

But AI is already making key decisions in our daily lives. Davies detailed how Facebook already weeds out potentially 1,500 to 2,000 posts per day from across the typical user’s friends, likes, groups, etc. and boils that down to roughly 15-20 items for one’s Newsfeed. Outside of social media, successful uses include Tess, an automated messaging-based mental health therapy app, as well as Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s use of software that can diagnose tuberculosis via x-rays.

Davies continued to explain how other examples of AI analysis exist in human resources, creative professions, transportation (self/partially automated vehicles), and public safety. However, the success of using AI in these fields has so far varied greatly, often depending on cultural acceptance of technology in daily life. In China, for example, facial recognition software is used to publicly shame jaywalkers, who transport planners blame for roadway accidents. Some KFC locations in China are also utilizing facial recognition software to guess what a customer will want to order. In the United States, though, Webby Media Group’s research presents a different picture of how Americans feel about artificial intelligence now and in the future.

Webby Media Group surveyed roughly 3,000 people in the U.S. to gauge awareness of AI in their daily lives, as well as assess their opinions on the technology going forward. The results showed major contrast in acceptance and usage. 65% said automation has made a significant impact on daily life, while 79% said they had used some form of AI in the past 12 months. The growth of AI in daily touchpoints has less acceptance, with 53% stating they were uncomfortable relenting choice of music to an algorithm (i.e. Spotify), while food recommendations (56% uncomfortable), finances (60% uncomfortable), and health decisions (79% uncomfortable) showing even less tolerance for the influence of AI. The survey-takers believed they will still rely on interpersonal touch for some important decisions, as 72% would believe a person’s restaurant recommendation over a computer’s, while 86% stated a human would be more trust-worthy than a computer when it comes to an important medical decision.

As for what’s possible within the next decade, the respondents continued to exhibit confidence in evolved use of existing technology. For example, 65% said AI could create music, and 80% believed self-driving deliveries would be commonplace. While music streaming platforms like Spotify do not create music (yet), it can suggest similar tracks, and the slow growth of self-driving cars and trucks via Uber, Tesla, etc. signify the (hopefully) eventual proliferation of automated vehicular transportation.

Davies listed four main takeaways:

  • AI is changing us as human beings
  • We must be hyper-conscious of concerns
  • We must have high expectations for the future of AI
  • And, we must earn trust with ideas that ultimately make life easier

I found his last point to be most important as conversation continues to grow around the proper deployment of artificial intelligence. In my opinion, having AI handle self-driving cars, simple medical assessments, basic aspects of early childhood education, and nutritional advice, for example, would actually make life easier. But suggestions for restaurants, group activities, or financial decisions would, to me at least, feel invasive and annoying. I recognize I’m part of a generation that is extremely tech savvy but somewhat wary of social media as the platforms have evolved. What I would post daily on Facebook 10 years ago I wouldn’t even share now on Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter as I’ve become less enthusiastic about sharing things publicly. And I certainly don’t have much of a need for an Alexa or Google Home at present time. Kids in high school now though? They’re all over Snapchat – of its 158 million daily users, the vast majority are aged 18 to 24 years old. Augmented reality, facial filters, location-based features, and other special effects are common now, but what will be common in a few years? And how will Gen Z’s acceptance of current tech help them utilize AI more than my generation?

My remaining questions after the presentation focus on how AI will impact content strategy and content marketing. Given the value of data in the field, it’s a matter of when, not if, software will begin to make recommendations on how to best spread content around within the media landscape. But will AI understand the value of creative brilliance over sheer quantity of impressions? Can publishers compete with Facebook, Google, and Amazon for bandwidth within their AI? We shall see. But fears of a dystopian automated future shouldn’t be boiling over yet.

Coffee talks – Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts on mobile

I’ll openly admit I’m a coffee addict. While I’ve taken to mainly making my own at home with Chock Full O’Nuts’ delightful “New York Roast”, I’m out and about enough to where I’ll occasionally stop in to a Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or one of the many outstanding independent Manhattan coffee shops when in need of a caffeine hit. I much prefer to spend money with a local place (such as my personal favorite, Terremoto on 15th St), but there are times when Starbucks or Dunkin’ are most convenient. The latter, in particular, has two gas station locations near my apartment in the Bronx, but as of 2014 there were slightly more than six Starbucks per square mile in Manhattan – so it’s usually rare when my options are lacking.

Starbucks’ mobile app combines ease and utility (courtesy –

I’ve been using the Starbucks reward system for at least the last five years, gladly wielding my fancy “gold” card each time to pay at the counter. Over the last year and a half though, I began using their mobile app to order on the go, and it’s a game-changer. It saves a ton of time, especially when ordering anything beyond hot drip coffee.

My Starbucks app – yeah, yeah, I have a bunch of rewards to use…

The design is sleek and simple, giving you primary choices on the first page – pay, stores, gift, order, or music (which allows one to stream a special Starbucks Spotify playlist). There is a “feed” of promotions plus tabs for one’s “inbox” of promotions, order history, and app settings. It’s all visible without scrolling or tapping – a major plus compared to Dunkin’ Donuts’ app. Reloading an account on the Starbucks app is fairly straightforward and quick, and mobile is seamlessly integrated with the physical Gold Card. Ordering on the go is relatively easy by allowing you to  choose between a favorite store if you’re nearby, or from a list of Starbucks within range while also seeing the store menu at the same time. Once you have your items picked out, and you hit “order”, that’s it. This is an important distinction from the Dunkin’ Donuts app, and a simple step which elevates Starbucks ahead of its New England-based competitor in my mind.

From a functionality standpoint, the Dunkin Donuts app menu offers a lot of choices, but without much thought to placement or preference. As you can see from the screenshot below, “My Caffeine IV”, or otherwise one’s favorite order is the first prompt shown when opening the app along with the “perks” and “my card” tabs. Fairly straightforward, right? Well, not quite. If you’d like to order something, you first go through the process of picking the drink and specifying customizations, finalizing the order, then picking the store you’d like to get it from. Once you pick the store, it still makes you confirm when you want to pick it up. I would assume most people ordering from a mobile app are utilizing it for immediate purposes, and simply want a painless, fast ordering process for right now. The extra “confirming” step feels like a bit of an annoyance especially when on the go. Same for the account replenishment – each time one must enter the security code on the back of a credit card. Sure, this is a nice way to keep one’s card info secure, but it slows down the order process compared to Starbucks’.

Compare the appearance of the two apps, as well. Starbucks’ is simple thanks to the text being easy to read, with buttons in prime placement areas optimized for quickness. The Dunkin app, especially on the ordering page, is a mash of colors and text and takes a few seconds to get used to. The main advantage offered by Dunkin’s app is the “favorite order” aspect being front and center, which is perfect for the loyal customer/brand advocate with a daily routine. While Starbucks does offer a favorite/repeat order option, it takes one or two steps to navigate to that area.

UPDATE – 12/14 – The Starbucks app went and updated itself less than 24 hours after I published this. The new look maintains a simple, easy to read layout. But, the reward tab stands out more, as well as adding a progress bar that indicates how many stars one must accumulate until getting another reward. This reminds me of what some airlines add to their loyalty pages that visually represent how much one has left before getting to a certain prestige level. Otherwise, the app maintains its feed-like scroll below the reward tab and seems to have kept its solid functionality.

Among the topics I’ll touch on in future posts is comparing Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts’ media strategies – while one company claims America Runs on Dunkin in tons of placement on many platforms, the other falls into cheery seasonal routines based around social media and activations within stores. I’m off to have another cup of Joe – and work on another post on that soon.

The Grand Tour Season 2 – Amazon’s three “monkeys” return

The Grand Tour, an Amazon Prime original show featuring the entertaining trio of middle-aged British car reviewers Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond will see the premiere of its second season this coming Saturday. With Amazon shelling out a reported $1.2 million to $4.9 million per episode, money is clearly no object as the online giant seeks to compete with Netflix in the battle for dominance in video streaming. The image below has been plastered on various Amazon properties over the last few months, as the monkey’s antics in its ads seek to push the comedic qualities possessed by Clarkson/May/Hammond.

Season 2 of The Grand Tour continues its “monkey” business in promotions

With such an enormous budget on-hand, Amazon has been promoting Season 2 of The Grand Tour quite heavily on several digital platforms. Its YouTube channel regularly posts teasers and original shorts to promote the new season. Here, the trio look to former Formula 1 driver Mark Webber to become their new “guest driver”.

On Instagram, The Grand Tour has used both funny behind the scenes-type pictures as well as video shorts highlighting some of the best moments of the previous season.

@BritishGQ TV Personalities of the Year? How did that happen? #GQAwards #TheGrandTour

A post shared by The Grand Tour (@itsthegrandtour) on


The Grand Tour’s out of home advertising has also started to ramp up in recent days. For example, billboards, subway posters, and Routemaster ads have sprouted up throughout New York City and London.

 [this example is from 2016, but the new season’s ads are used in these same subway platform frames]

Awesome, saw this ad for the Grand Tour in tge Subway in New York #newyorkcity #newyork #thegrandtour #newyorksubway

A post shared by Erik”s Own photography (@eriksownphotography) on

I have not watched enough network or cable TV to see whether traditional 30-60 second television ads have been in the equation for Amazon to promote Season 2, but they most certainly were as part of its buildup for Season 1. I can recall plenty of Grand Tour ads during football games (hello, males 18-34!) last year as well as other prime-time programming.

With The Grand Tour’s release format going the route of a traditional week by week distribution instead of mass episode posting a la House of Cards, Amazon and Clarkson/May/Hammond will have more content to share throughout The Grand Tour’s social platforms each day as teasers and ICYMIs, for example. The show’s action-packed format lends itself more to digesting separately in 60-something minute meals instead of heavy binges popular with other streaming-only series. I’ll be curious to see how viewers react to the new season – I know I’ll be watching!

Dec. 5, 2017: Jumping Back In

Hello, world once again.

I’m coming back up for air after several years’ dormancy on my blog. A lot has changed for me on a personal and professional level since my last post almost three years ago. I finished grad school at City College and now am the proud owner of a Master’s degree. I recently completed my fifth year at MLB Advanced Media, growing to serve in more in a supervisory role. While I won’t detail it all here quite yet, I have some ideas for new posts here that I’ll begin to work on over the next few days. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts again and putting myself back out there.

What I learned in one semester of grad school, and why you should go back to school

If anyone considers going to grad school while working full-time, I wholeheartedly say go for it. As a working professional, you get used to a routine – 8am-5pm, for instance, or for those of us working in sports media production, something like 7pm-3am during baseball season.

Adding grad school to that mix forced me to adjust my expectations of what I was capable of doing. Suddenly, you have to find time for two or three extra projects due in two weeks for class when you’re losing 40-plus hours a week to your job that pays the bills. Initially, I thought, “Oh jeez, there’s no way I can hammer out all that” but I did it. You find a way to get the work done and not only finish it on-time, but do a good job on it because the inner desire to succeed is what powers you through.

The first things to get cut from my daily time budget were exercise and sleep. Instead of, lets’s day, running two or three times a week around visiting the gym a couple times too, I could run, at best, once a week. While I wasn’t quite completely sleep-deprived, I became reliant on naps on the uptown A or 1 trains while headed to class. Without much exercise besides walking around the city or Citibike rides, the naps kept me mentally fresh. Thanks to those 10-15 minute brain refreshers, I didn’t need to pound coffee all day and put more physical stress on myself.

You relearn how to work with people from every discipline and walk of life. My professional circle tends to include high-strung Type-A personalities (I would identify in that category as well) who are focused on time-sensitive deadlines. In stark contrast, my classmates this past semester were more creative and found unique solutions to project objectives through deliberate discussion. It wasn’t easy but I had to remember to be patient and understand different styles for winding up at a conclusion when testing out different ideas. With about half of the class made up of international students, I enjoyed meeting and working with people from across the globe. I gained a fresh perspective thanks to their relative lack of familiarity with American consumerism and advertising.

There’s an unbelievably strong satisfaction gained from a great finish to a semester. Without sounding too corny it really was a great reminder why setting goals and working towards them can help you rediscover your purpose. I feel I know far better now where my life is headed and what my professional strengths and weaknesses are than six months ago.

2014: Year in Review

2014 Year in Review

As I wrote on Facebook on New Year’s Eve, I’m not sure I’ve worked harder than I have in 2014, but the rewards have been sweet.

The year started out with my work life at a standstill. I was getting about 20 hours a week at working as a producer/board operator for a 24/7 streaming radio show. With little experience in producing a live radio show, I had to learn on-the-go and eventually discovered the art of booking guests. Through the NFL playoffs, Super Bowl, and Winter Olympics in Sochi, we managed to bring on writers, columnists, broadcasters, and athletes for full coverage throughout each day.

While I found scheduling and listening to talk radio interviews enjoyable, I felt held back by the limited opportunities for producer creativity in a news/talk radio show. I knew the baseball season was just a few months away, but I began wondering what’s outside the sports media production world and started looking at full-time graduate school options. I knew I wanted to look in New York State’s affordable and well-respected State University of New York/City University of New York system for a program in marketing, communications, or business. After a few days of searching online, I found the City College of New York’s Branding & Integrated Communications program and registered for an open house in February. After attending it, I was convinced it would be the right program for me thanks to its portfolio-based workflow, night classes, and group projects. With nothing to lose, I applied.

Meanwhile, work was starting to pick up again. In late February, one of my former coworkers from my Giants days reached out to me asking if I was interested in a part-time digital production assistant position with the NHL. I of course said yes as I was in dire need of cash, and was brought in for an interview where I was offered the position. I was limited to 29 hours a week but I knew it would be a great opportunity to gain extra experience on the digital publishing side. Of course, with baseball around the corner, I would need to balance both jobs. The plan for the baseball season was to work from about 10am-4pm each day at NHL, go home for a quick nap, then head to MLB for the night – getting in anytime from 6pm to 9pm and eventually going home anytime from 2am-5am.

In March, I made my yearly trip to Kansas City for the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championships, where I assisted with social media coverage. While there, I also had the opportunity to produce a shoot for MLB and Budweiser with Kansas City Royals broadcaster Rex Hudler. With assistance from a local production company, we had Hudler sit down in front of a green screen in his home’s memorabilia room and share his favorite memories of baseball’s Opening Day from his playing days. He could not have been more awesome to work with. Not only did he nail each line in just two or three takes, he shared some amazing stories and gave us a detailed tour of all the memorabilia he had collected from his years in Major League Baseball.

When I returned to New York in mid-March, the NHL’s stretch run was in full swing so I began training for what my position would entail. I learned how to swap out videos and thumbnails on the home page as well as acquire and share videos from the league’s teams to include with stories on the home page. With NHL Network’s studios in the building, I was responsible for attending each day’s production meeting and sending notes to the digital team for deliverables and features they might find useful.

Baseball’s Opening Day was frenetic. I started the day at NHL and left for the afternoon to begin training as a coordinating producer at MLB while helping with the other Opening Day craziness. While learning the ropes of a “CP”, I was helping troubleshoot the inevitable technical problems that always pop up on the first day of a big event. For the most part, the day went past without a hitch and baseball season was fully underway.

I spent the next three months working about 75 hours a week splitting time between NHL and MLB. It was physically and mentally exhausting but I treated it like a marathon, just trying to get to the finish line and do as good a job as possible for both in the meantime. In this stretch at MLB, I produced three no-hitters (Josh Beckett, Clayton Kershaw, and Tim Lincecum), drank about 1,200 Starbucks Venti Iced Coffees, and gained experience in just about every facet of the multimedia producer role at MLB.

Meanwhile, in mid-May, I received my decision letter from the BIC program at City College. I excitedly opened the electronic version while on lunch break at the NHL, and to my delight found I was accepted to the program. I immediately sent back the acceptance deposit and began the enrollment process.

I wrapped up my position at the NHL at the end of June and began to concentrate fully on MLB as well as mentally prepare for school to get underway in late August. Starting August 28th, my 3 night classes began. Until the end of the season, I would go in to work after class to help with the nightly work load during baseball’s stretch run. I actually found the schedule to be fairly advantageous as I would end up getting home from work around 5am, sleep to 11am-noon, then work on assignments or readings for school until about 4pm when I would get ready to go uptown for class. After class, I’d bolt to the subway and get in to work around 9:30pm, just in time to edit a West Coast game.

Oh, one more gig I forgot to mention – in July, my former supervisor at the New York Football Giants emailed to ask if I would be interested in helping out on gamedays at Metlife Stadium as the Red Zone Highlight editor. Of course, I said yes, and was now booked for each NYG home game where I would clip a handful of highlights from other games to show on the stadium’s videoboards. It took me a game or two to reacquaint myself with the demands of a real-time production environment but eventually I felt very comfortable with the workflow and happily will be back for next season. I was pleased with what we aired on the boards as I kept them relevant to what a Giants fan would want, making sure to show other games in the NFC East, as well as writing scripts for the PA announcer for live reads.

Come October, school and work were going full-steam and I was feeling confident about where my career and education were headed, but still faced some uncertainty about what might happen after baseball season. While working a dayside shift one day, my supervisor at MLB pulled me into an empty office and sat me down to talk. Thinking it was just an annual performance review for part-timers before the end of the playoffs, I wasn’t expecting anything surprising. But, to my great shock, he offered me a promotion to a full-time Multimedia Producer position, to which I accepted several hours later. Suddenly, my entire world view changed in essentially a heartbeat. My uncertainties about paying rent, health insurance, and whether I was worthwhile at all as a producer were washed away. Of course, I knew I still had plenty of things to improve on and that I would have significant challenges ahead balancing full-time school work and a full-time job, but I knew this is the prime time of my life to take it on.

With newfound stability, I was able to enjoy the work that came with the thrilling World Series between the Royals and Giants while not losing track of my school work. After the conclusion of the Fall Classic, my shift times became much easier and I began working dayside, going straight to class afterwards. This meant very long, mentally exhausting days, but I loved having a routine.

My 3 classes each culminated in massive end-of-semester group presentations. For my Research class, our group chose to study Hillshire Farms Lunch Meat and investigate potential opportunities for the brand as well as audience sentiments about the product. In my Idea Development class, our assignment was to develop a creative campaign with executions for the New York Water Taxi. And in my Strategy class, we created our own “agency” and chose to formulate a comprehensive integrated marketing campaign for Boxed Water is Better, a portable water company specializing in renewable sourcing for its packaging. I’m incredibly proud of the final results for each project and I’ll detail more about them, including what I learned from each in my next post, but for now, I can happily say I finished with straight A’s this semester.

So with class finishing for the semester in mid-December, I was left to enjoy wrapping up at work for the Holidays and enjoying some well-deserved time off for Christmas and New Years. 2014 may have been tough at the start for me, but I’m incredibly optimistic about what the future holds.

It’s been a while.

Wow. It’s been too long since I’ve written on here, but rest assured, I’m back. Life is exciting. After spending two seasons with the New York Football Giants and two seasons with MLB Advanced Media’s Gamenight staff, my professional work has been steady and improving. I’m now in graduate school in The City College of New York’s Branding & Integrated Communications program to help me get a leg up on advancing my career even further.

I’ll be posting some of my thoughts on branding, marketing, and the sports industry here as well, just as in past, the random thoughts I enjoy sharing.

Unscientific Unempirical Totally Ridiculous but Halfway Serious CFB Predictions: Pac-12

In 2009, I went through all the major BCS conferences and created some semi-amusing, totally off-base and (eventually) inaccurate predictions and bowl projections for the upcoming college football season. In 2010, I was working nonstop throughout the summer without a break and never had the chance to put together some predictions. So now that I have some free time on my hands, it’s time to do some predictions – here’s the Pac-12. I took about two weeks off since I was prepping for a few job interviews, and I woke up absurdly early this morning, so I figured I’d make up the time by putting up my Pac-12 predictions. (Continued)

Unscientific Unempirical Totally Ridiculous but Halfway Serious CFB Predictions: Big East

In 2009, I went through all the major BCS conferences and created some semi-amusing, totally off-base and (eventually) inaccurate predictions and bowl projections for the upcoming college football season. In 2010, I was working nonstop throughout the summer without a break and never had the chance to put together some predictions. So now that I have some free time on my hands, it’s time to do some predictions – here’s the Big East. (Continued)

Unscientific Unempirical Totally Ridiculous but Halfway Serious CFB Predictions: SEC

In 2009, I went through all the major BCS conferences and created some semi-amusing, totally off-base and (eventually) inaccurate predictions and bowl projections for the upcoming college football season. In 2010, I was working nonstop throughout the summer without a break and never had the chance to put together some predictions. So now that I have some free time on my hands, it’s time to do some predictions – here’s the SEC. (Continued)