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GP21Jan04: Blue Skies: A Few Predictions for '04

Serial MadnessDallas. Magnum P.I.  Dragnet.  James Bond. Cheers.  Carol Burnett.  MatlockMrs. Fletcher in Cabot Cove.  Saturday Night Live.  Love Boat.  Dynasty. These days the TV stations and cable networks either do knockoffs of each other’s programming, or they reach into the past to create 3-day marathons out of outdated shows that were the hits of yesterday.  The redundancy of our media helps make us feel that we are running in place or falling backwards, a phenomenon we discussed in last week’s letter

As their audiences shrink, TV moguls reach out for safe (and cheap) old chestnuts, exhibiting a failure of imagination and nerve that has infected many of our executive suites.  To some degree, our entertainment mirrors the state of the nation, at least in the corridors of power.  Have we run out of ideas?   

No Longer Couch Potatoes.  No, we haven’t.  But you would never know it if you listen to the airwaves or parse the words of many of our leaders.  In fact, out there in America, lots of experiments are underway.  New ideas and new behaviors are taking hold.   Wiping the sleep from their eyes, people appear to be getting up off the couch, shutting off the TV, skipping the potato chips, and getting more exercise. They are marching to a different drummer.  We may be on the verge of putting the brakes on our worst epidemic—obesity. 

The NPD Group (www.npd.com/press/releases/press_031014.htm) claims Americans “lost weight in the last year and are eating healthier.”  More are eating fruits and vegetables and more are exercising.  With 55% of the population now overweight, down from 56% the prior year, NPD says this is the first time since 1998 that Americans have hunkered down, looked at ourselves in the mirror, and done something about our pouches.   

We would predict that this is not an aberration and that America Light is on the way.  Veteran pop star James Brown now chortles that he’s got “his weight down.”  Visits to diet websites have soared in the New Year (see www.nielsen-netratings.com/pr/pr_040112.pdf).  Burger King, trying to go MacDonald’s and its salads one better, has started offering burgers without the bun, sort of an Atkins Diet on the run.  One year does not make a trend, but the chorus of alarm from the health community about our excess pounds seems to be sinking in.  The effect of diet consciousness on healthcare, food producers, and other aspects of our economy may be profound.  We wonder how Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest grocer, will take this in stride.  Incidentally, we have just started a Watching Wal-Mart page to keep better tabs on the world’s biggest, most influential, company. 

Blogs.  Governor Dean has gotten 20% of the vote and a lot of campaign funds based on his agile use of the Internet.  Of course, he has to figure out how to get the other 31% from people who are not computer compulsive.  The growth in Internet visitors has begun to level off, but a multitude of average people are using the Internet in more sophisticated ways.  We are most aware of this in politics where fund-raising, instant town meetings, and free dialog have all been tremendously enabled  by virtual conversation.  For more on politics and the Web, read Brian Krebs, January 15, 2004, on Washingtonpost.com.   

We find particularly interesting the growth of blogs and other forum devices where likeminded individuals can intimately converse about topics in a spontaneous way unfiltered by editors, talk show hosts, or any of the other impediments to unfettered, imaginative conversation that clutter our mass media and our other societal institutions.  We have urged healthcare and financial service clients to add forums to their websites with great success:  They have attracted thousands of visitors and generated countless good will. 

Cheaply and easily at all hours, ordinary people can think together across the globe.  These are the new Chautauquas.  Blogs will be the topic of one or more future Global Province letters. We think they will become a much-used tool for the nation’s rejuvenation, even as our traditional media continue to flog  conventional wisdom and hackneyed content. 

Discovery of Older Dudes.  For years our society and our marketing geniuses have focused on youth, casting aside anybody over 45.  The TV networks geared their shows to teeny boppers, thirty-somethings, etc., who were taken to be the desirable audiences for the nation’s advertisers.  That just may be changing. 

Over the last year action movies for adolescents have been faltering a bit, while more thoughtful fare for adults has picked up some steam.  Interestingly, older actresses, once shunned by Hollywood, now can be stars again, and so Diane Keaton (58), Jamie Lee Curtis (45), and Helen Mirren (58)  flash across our screens and steal the show.  “Tickets bought by men and women older than 40 grew to 32 percent of overall ticket purchases in 2002, from 20 percent in 1987….  By contrast, the percentage of tickets purchased by filmgoers from 12 to 39 years old dropped from 80 percent in 1987 to 67 percent in 2002.”   See The New York Times, January 18, 2004, p. Wk 12.  Movies, by the way, often tip you off to larger changes occurring throughout society.  In other words, the senior market has become a more and more desirable target as we tiptoe into the 21st century, and moguls East and West are coming to realize it.   

Demographics tell the story.  In advanced economies, birthrates have fallen, life spans have lengthened, and more and more of the population has a stylish wrinkle or two.  Sooner or later, we will need to push the retirement age to 70, or our pension and healthcare systems will go broke.  Meanwhile, our messages and our marketing in ‘04 will speak more clearly to the growth of the grays. 

New Power.  Oil gets more expensive. Coal dusts up our atmosphere.  All naysayers to the contrary, we are beginning to get serious about diversity—energy diversity beyond oil and fossil fuels.  Hybrid automobiles, which use less gasoline, are now really gaining traction.  Solar energy is slowly becoming more economic.  In Eastern Canada and elsewhere, there is an attempt to harness the tides to generate electricity.  

Very promising is the growth of wind power where Europeans, particularly the Danes, have vastly improved the technology and are now producing serious amounts of energy.  Most recently, Great Britain has announced a vast project, using more than 1,000 turbines, that it expects to be the world’s biggest wind power installation, churning out 7 percent of the country’s electricity needs.  For more on this, see item 58 at Big Ideas.  As oil and other commodities become more costly in 2004, we expect to see much more focus on both conservation and energy diversity. 

In Toto.  For ‘04 we see less blob and more blogs.  Seniors in our sights and big winds at our backs.  You don’t have to vow to go on a diet:  You are on one already. 

P.S.  May you celebrate opportunity presented by all these changes in the Chinese New Year that is just upon us.

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