The Jeff Bezos Show, Brought to You by 60 Minutes

December 6, 2013

I’ve been watching 60 Minutes for a long time, since before Mike Wallace and his cameraman, two or three decades ago, were crashing through the doors of sweaty, red-faced charlatans who fleeced sick people or rolled back car odometers. The program defined investigative TV journalism, and it continues (usually) to lead a pack of imitators today.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos evidently is not as big a fan as I am of 60 Minutes – style reporting. I mean, the kind that can’t be labeled “puff piece”. Give Bezos credit, though. He co-opted the show Sunday night and turned it into an infomercial for PrimeAir, Amazon’s dubious plan for achieving 30-minute delivery of orders to its customers via airborne drones.

There is something about watching that little “octocopter”, clutching its five-pounds-or-less bundle of customer satisfaction as it wobbles down for a soft landing in the front yard of said satisfied customer, that makes me laugh. Out loud, and accented with a shake of head and roll of eyes. Watching the Amazon drone in action makes me want to pick up a rotary dial phone to call Sears Roebuck and ask if they have a copy of Grand Funk Railroad’s album in stock. For my eight-track tape player. Oh, and I’ll drive over in my AMC Pacer to pick up the tape.

Is Bezos banking on technology’s knack for creating consumer desire, and then gratifying that need nearly instantly?

He is, but don’t worry about your Amazon-purchased garlic press colliding in midair with your neighbor’s exfoliating facial scrub any time soon. Plenty of obstacles loom between Amazon’s concept and a real implementation of PrimeAir. There’s FAA approval, which is several years out. The range of the Amazon drone is about ten miles. Do you live near an Amazon fulfillment center; do you plan to move near one; or, do you want one built near your home? It’s a likely “no” to all three, even if you’ll lose out on low prices and delivery times that will make your local pizza shop envious.

Bezos knows these and the other problems with PrimeAir, but that can’t matter much to him considering what he and Amazon gained from Sunday’s 60 Minutes appearance. For one thing, he’s planted a seed that will get Americans thinking differently about drones, a word we presently associate with terrorists, surgical strikes, and war. If we are to accept and embrace the idea of these benevolent little octocopters floating over our front yards with our Amazon orders, we’ll need to forget the other kind of drone. That will take time, and Bezos said Sunday night he’s prepared to be patient.

Was it an accident or a happy coincidence for Amazon that the 60 Minutes segment aired on the eve of the retailer-created holiday, Cyber Monday? Please. Bezos scored a marketing coup by enlisting Charlie Rose and the 60 Minutes producers to help, knowingly or not, with a fourteen-minute Amazon ad, and let the TV people sprinkle a little reporting in to keep up appearances. With the 60 Minutes I grew up on, the recipe worked the other way around.