The X, Why, Zzzzz Affair

On an otherwise quiet and balmy summer Sunday (side note:  DO go see BARBIE, and tell Ted Cruz to reconsider any thoughts about being a movie critic after he gets voted out of office), my friends Yacco and Wacko took to their favorite social media site to announce to the world that change was about to happen.   Per DEADLINE’s Armando Tinoco:

Linda Yaccarino is sharing her take on the Twitter rebrand to X after Elon Musk dropped the news over the weekend on the social media platform.

Musk posted on Twitter that Twitter was not going to be known as Twitter anymore and would now be called X. The Tesla owner said he was going to introduce an interim logo for the platform sometime on Sunday, July 23 with the domain pointing to

Yaccarino says the rebrand is the opportunity to make another first impression as the company seeks to be a hub for everything.

“It’s an exceptionally rare thing – in life or in business – that you get a second chance to make another big impression,” she tweeted. “Twitter made one massive impression and changed the way we communicate. Now, X will go further, transforming the global town square.”

She continued, “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities. Powered by AI, X will connect us all in ways we’re just beginning to imagine.”

Yaccarino said that everyone has “pushed Twitter to dream bigger, to innovate faster, and to fulfill our great potential” with X able to “do that and more.”

“We’ve already started to see X take shape over the past 8 months through our rapid feature launches, but we’re just getting started,” she added. “There’s absolutely no limit to this transformation. X will be the platform that can deliver, well….everything. @elonmusk and I are looking forward to working with our teams and every single one of our partners to bring X to the world.”

And as I read this proclamation from someone I and so many others have intensely respected for decades, I could only think one of two things had happened.

Musk held a proverbial gun to her head–or reminded her how much he was paying her–and had AI generate that statement for her grudging sign-0ff.  Or, worse yet, someone had a lame idea that a rebrand would be the panacea for anything else gone wrong.

It seems that extremely rich people with ties to Silicon Valley are obsessed with the concept of rebranding.  Lloyd Lee of BUSINESS INSIDER reported yesterday that the roots of this move may lie in Musk’s ill fated attempt to launch a competitor to PayPal in 1999, and how some truly half-assed “research” put an earworm in his head that apparently has taken root like a virus nearly a quarter-century later:

Twitter’s potential new logo recalls Musk’s earlier tech entrepreneur days when he was a 28-year-old in Silicon Valley with ambitions to start an online banking company in 1999.

By that point, Musk launched and sold Zip2 — a company that provided city travel guide software to newspapers — for about $341 million. Musk earned $22 million out of the deal.

Using that cash, his next venture focused on banking services. The idea was to create an online tool for mutual fund management, according to a 1999 Marketwatch article.  

What would this online service be called? According to Julie Anderson Ankenbrandt, a former PayPal executive, the name was born in a classic Silicon Valley setting: a café.

“There was a night early on where Elon, the other founders of the company … and I sat around a backroom table at a long-defunct bar called the Blue Chalk (Cafe) in Palo Alto, trying (to) decide what the name of the company should be,” Ankenbrandt wrote in a 2016 Quora post. “At that point, early 1999, the intent was still to build a revolutionary full-service financial platform (credit card, mutual fund, and standard banking data all in one place – just imagine! 🙂 ) and the question at hand was whether to be q, x, or z dot com.”

According to Ankenbrandt, a waitress at the café would have the final say.  Elon asked her what she thought, and she said she liked,” Ankenbrandt wrote. “Elon pounded the table and said, ‘That’s it then!'”

Assuming this story to be true–and there’s little to suggest with Musk’s track record it isn’t–it’s even less backed up by sound real research than the 2021 rebrand of his future cage match opponent Mark Zuckerberg’s company to Meta.  Yeah, Facebook’s fortune haschanged dramatically with that move, hasn’t it?

And I can tell you from firsthand experience that Musk’s late 90s vision was almost as clear as the one I and a few other would-be adults in the room had to deal with at roughly the same time when our far less wealthy boss decided that what the media landscape realllly needed was gender-specific children’s channels.  Wrote Richard Katz of VARIETY!:

Now that it has relaunched the old-skewing Family Channel as the kid-and-young-adult targeted Fox Family Channel, the cabler announced Tuesday that it will create two channels for the digital world.

Dubbed the Boyz Channel and the Girlz Channel, the pair will target kids 2-14 years all day until 9 p.m., when both services will offer shows for parents, said Rich Cronin, president and CEO, Fox Family Channels and Fox Kids Network.

Both are owned by Fox Family Worldwide, a joint venture of Saban Entertainment and News Corp., and much of the programming for Boyz and Girlz will be culled from the kidvid library Fox Kids already owns.

Added KIDSCREEN’s Virginia Robertson:

Addressing concerns that separate channels for boys and girls will over-fragment the audience, Cronin responds, ‘There are currently four women’s channels, but no channel just for boys, no channel just for girls. Niche marketing is what cable and satellite do best.’ Fox Family’s research shows that boys and girls have very specific needs, however in some cases, a show may be able to air on either The Boyz Channel or The Girlz Channel, depending on research results, says Cronin.

Our “research” was merely based upon whatever data existed somewhere in the world on the gender split of these shows.  But because a great deal of these titles had never even aired and Saban was ultimately looking for ways to monetize them somewhere, we did dozens of focus groups with kids and their parents and showed them clips, storyboards and even read log lines.  Often in tow was a “branding expert” who Cronin had hired for mid-six figures that was the driving force behind the “boyz” and “girlz” names.  The “expert” insisted we own the “z”, ever chiding us to be certain we didn’t accidentally use an “s” when referencing these channels.  More often than not, the majority of our respondents expressed indifference, sometimes disgust, at some of the cheap, humorless European and Asian-produced drek that we showed them.   But if one outlier happened to be modestly interested, the “expert” insisted we report those results, and that child’s gender was the sole determinant as to where theose “borderline” shows would ultimately be deployed.

Fortunately, one of my internal allies was an esteemed veteran children’s content expert who had once been a producer for MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD and an advisor to the founder for the Action for Children’s Television, and a disarmingly blunt and respected voice among the sycophants who gave the branding expert’s counsel more air than it deserved.  When the expert would attempt to defend her work by referencing our “research”, it was politely pointed out that what we had done could hardly been seen as anything but anecdotal and directional.

And that the name of where these shows would air was thoroughly inconsequential.  “You could call this macaroni”, reminded my ally, “and it wouldn’t matter”.”, and then would fold her arms smugly defying the branding “expert” to bring it on, bee-yatch.

And as it turned out, my more mature colleague was right.  If you don’t recall boyzchannel or girlzchannel, you’re not alone; they never reached more than 100,000 subscribers, and far fewer viewers.  At one point, our building was the only venue west of the Misssissippi River where you could see either channel.  They folded within a year, by which time I had fortunately already moved on, and, soon after, more forcibly (and expensively), so did Cronin.

We’ll see what fate awaits Yaccarino as all of this rebranding and fractionalization unfolds.  I’m personally hoping better for her, but I admit I have my doubts

That’s ‘cuz I know full well how meaningless a name is.  Maybe Yaccarino didn’t know about all that; after all, at roughly that time she was part of a team that launched an age-specific iteration of a kids’ channel, Adult Swim, that was far more successful at the time.  But I do know she was around NBCU when The Esquire Network replaced Style.  And that was a hurried pivot from the original plan for that co-brand with Hearst to replace the original G4, which had a much smaller footprint but less brand equity.  Style was an unapologetically female-skewing compliment to E!; Esquire looked to retrofit it with “metrosexual” content selected in much the same manner as our “research” segmented the Saban library with.   If for no other reason than its pre-existing commitments with MSOs, Esquire at least lasted four times as long as did boyzchannel and girlzchannel.

And from what I’m seeing in the reaction of most observers and participants so far, that still may outdistance the staying power of whatever will become of what was Twitter and what is apparently becoming X.   Or whatever it might become down the road, since, as we know, the letter “x” isn’t exactly an original idea for the name of something.

Perhaps Linda will be able to eventually be the adult in the room that drives that point home.  Or maybe she’s being paid enough to ignore it.  Dunno.  Kinda wish I did.

Until next time…


1 thought on “The X, Why, Zzzzz Affair”

  1. Nice blog Steve.
    I think X will be much better than Twitter and I like what Elon is trying to do with it.
    I hope he is successful. It will be for the greater good.


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