Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In Defence of "Good-Old" Media

All around us there is the rumble and crash of old media edifices falling. The image is either a Stalinesque one or that of a terminally ill patient whose concerned relatives are arguing about the right time to switch off the life-support system. OK, so I'm stretching that a bit, but you only have to look around you to see the carnage in some parts of the sector.

The newspaper & print media in general after ignoring the threats for too long and then continuing to believe in their invincibility, have all but thrown in the white flag. Many have now started working with Google as it starts to look more and more like the "all things to all people" - when it comes to aggregating eyeballs. Recent moves by Google to move into both print and radio advertising suggests that the biggest threat Google presents isn't to media businesses as much as to media planning, buying and the advertising business. Ultimately some of that revenue will always flow back into content, except for classified advertising, which has truly "flown the coop".

Today's FT reports that EMAP have called in the BCG to "review" its Magazine business (requires subscription). The article also hints that this will lead to cost cutting in the group. Seems strange to call in a high profile consulting company to tell you what you've already decided to do. None the less, unless the folks at EMAP truly believe that people buy FHM for the quality of their editorial content, it should be reasonably apparent that young men will prefer to go find what they want on the Internet.

In all of this, though the news about the demise of media in general are "greatly exaggerated" Here are a few reasons why.

1. People still consume news and entertainment - and by and large, don't like to go searching for it every day. This doesn't mean that they'll read or watch any rubbish that you put out, but that people evolve their own, simple patterns for finding what they want, and like to go back to the same places, till they get dissatisfied. Good examples of this are the BBC website, the Guardian website, Youtube (on the verge of dissatisfaction?), and a number of successful TV channels.

2. People also want/ need to consume services - which may or may not be tied in to content. Classifieds (like jobs searches) was a service which was tied in to content because it was the only way of getting to a large number of people. Trade and other focused magazines continue to attract their share of jobs and classifieds. But there's no reason to suggest that the best way to find a plumbing service or a second hand car is in a mainstream newspaper. Newspapers that realized this too late had to suffer at the hands of the ebays, craigslists, and monster.coms of the world. Successful services like Flickr and skype not only take advantage of basic needs, they also should and could have been thought of by existing businesses.

3. The published (note: not printed) word, has a value which is distinct from that of the audiovisual. It stays there in front of you as long as you want. In an audiovisual, if you get distracted for a few seconds, you have to rewind back to where you were, and this is not possible for 80% of the audiovisual (a/v) content we consume. Published content can be consumed at leisure, with interruptions, at your own pace. Whats more it can be searched, underlined, highlighted, passed around and marked up with ease. Although technology will change and morph our ability to manipulate audiovisual content the same way, the published word will not go away in a hurry. But tying it to any format (including a website on the internet) is restrictive and dangerous. Think RSS and see a service called pageflakes

4. A/v content obviously has the advantages of being more compelling, dramatic, worth a thousand words etc. But a/v content is not the same as television. Equally, there are a bunch of services which can and need to be delivered around a/v content. Advertising is one such service, that meets the needs of one set of stakeholders. But surely, the ability to search and tag, to highlight or "underline" - are some of the things we'd like to see in video content as well. Enter blinkx and services like Veotag and

What's changing is the "easy street" of content distribution. This known and trusted model of newspapers, magazines and TV channels - which has become all but formulaic. It just means that content - both published and audiovisual, and services (connected to content or otherwise) will have to think a little harder about what consumers want, how much they're willing to pay, and how to make money of them.


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