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Drone Warfare: Jeff Bezos, the feds, and media manipulation

 

If you stop and think about it, what Jeff Bezos pulled off on “60 Minutes” was nothing short of remarkable.

Never mind that there are serious government hurdles—not to mention technological challenges—to the Amazon founder’s idea of using drones to deliver packages. Or that Bezos himself says this won’t happen for years. Or that the drone’s range is only 10 miles.

With a single interview about something that doesn’t exist, Bezos hijacked the 24/7 news cycle. Everyone is talking, writing, blogging, tweeting and kvetching about drones.

Of course it’s fascinating. Bezos (who also happens to be the new owner of the Washington Post) is a visionary who’s built the largest online retailer by thinking big. Ordering food, books or a new set of towels and having them descend on your lawn within half an hour sounds kinda cool. But there’s a certain suspension of disbelief taking place in many quarters.

Keep in mind that the administration that brought you ObamaCare would have to approve these little octocopters filling the skies. And the Federal Aviation Administration won’t even have rules in place until 2015 at the earliest.

Charlie Rose is a great conversationalist, but the “60 Minutes” correspondent was not exactly hard on Bezos, asking him only a couple of skeptical questions about Amazon forcing smaller firms out of business. And Rose’s reaction upon being led into the drone room—“Oh my God”—became the teaser for Sunday’s segment.

Sample exchange:

BEZOS: I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not.

ROSE: Wow!

Wired delivers a digital spanking:

“The world’s largest online retailer duped 60 Minutes and a fawning Charlie Rose — who doesn’t appear to know the meaning of the word ‘vaporware’ — into turning the venerable CBS news mag into the spearhead of Amazon’s latest and greatest Cyber Monday marketing campaign.

“The truth is that no one who buys discounted merchandise on Amazon today will have it delivered by drone, and such deliveries won’t happen for years — if they happen at all.”

USA Today’s Rem Rieder says Bezos pulled off a publicity coup:

“If the 60 Minutes segment Sunday night on Amazon.com had been a drone, you'd have to say it badly missed its target.

“The venerable news program gave Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos a spectacular early Christmas present with its warm embrace of all things Amazon — on the eve of Cyber Monday, no less.”

There were other notes of skepticism, starting with the AP:

“Jeff Bezos' idea to let self-guided drones deliver packages may be too futuristic for Washington to handle.

“The Amazon CEO is working on a way to use the small aircraft to get parcels to customers in 30 minutes or less. While flight technology makes it feasible, U.S. law and society's attitude toward drones haven't caught up with Bezos' vision.”

MIT drone expert Mary Cummings popped up in a number of places, including CNBC:

“‘The FAA is way behind the curve,’ Cummings said. ‘Drone experts are not optimistic for a 2015 deadline.’ It is just a little over a year away, she added, ‘and they don't even have the test sites named, much less the framework laid out.’”

What’s more, CNET points out, “there will be other regulatory hoops to jump through, particularly with the public perception of what flying robots mean for privacy issues. The Senate had already planned to hold a hearing specifically on Amazon's new drones as a part of its efforts to review the general use of commercial drones. Its past hearings have focused on surveillance drones used by police and other government agencies.”

CNN delivers its own, ah, firepower:

“What will keep people from shooting them down?

“OK, it's perhaps a little off-topic. But every single conversation we've had about the Amazon drones has, at some point, ended up focused on the innate human desire to knock stuff out of the sky, preferably with a loud bang.”

Sounds like fun.

Maybe someday we’ll all be living in a world where drones can fetch our latest needs. But for now, much of the media is racing after what sounded like an infomercial.

Business Channels Losing Audience

There was a time, a couple of bubbles ago, when business news was very hot. But those day-trading days are long gone.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

“Since 2008, average total daytime viewership has fallen more than 50%—to 169,000 from 348,000 —at CNBC, which commands three-quarters of the audience among business-news networks, according to Nielsen.

“Six-year-old Fox Business Network remains on a long-term growth trajectory, but its average total daytime audience has declined from last year—to 58,000 from 71,000—and has fallen short of some media buyers' expectations.

“Bloomberg LP, meanwhile, is rethinking the business model of its TV channel, having failed to turn a profit or draw more than 10% of the audience for TV business news despite being on the air for nearly two decades, according to people familiar with the matter. Nielsen doesn't release Bloomberg TV's ratings.”

Why the decline? Says Kevin Magee, executive vice president of Fox Business Network: "I think there are all sorts of places you can get stock prices. Aside from that, there is general unhappiness with the economy these days, and it isn't always fun to watch news that's bad." 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz.

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