The media has been replaced

It used to be that we craved perspective and information from the media, largely because this was our only option (well apart from going to the pub with our loud mouthed friends I guess).  Anyway, it’s clear that the media got really good at influencing our behavior, likes and dislikes.  It’s also clear that it got awfully complacent. So when social media arrived it kind of ignored it.  Journalists often decried bloggers as amateurs.  How right they were.  If they’d thought about it a bit longer maybe they’d have realized that being an amateur can have its advantages.  The media was also slow to appreciate that people don’t care who gives them their news, their insight and perspective.  They just care that it is accurate and that it engages them.  We were loyal to media channels because our only choice was another media channel.  Given a completely different choice, many of us took it.  This isn’t to say the media is irrelevant and should become an historical footnote.  The media is potentially more relevant than ever.  Our world is becoming more and more complex and the expectations of the population ever more sophisticated.  We want to know, to be entertained and to be educated right now and in a way that we want.  We want live video and close up photos of the most obscure moments, not just the moments when presidents are shot.  We want to share our thoughts and hear the thoughts of others on what is happening.  We also want to act on the decisions this content may provoke.  All this and more is possible through the media, yet for some reason the media still chooses to limit the ways we participate in their process and they our lives.  So we turn to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to learn, laugh and get stuff done.  As a result, the newspapers lie unread at the end of the driveway, the magazines in the dentist office curl at the edges and the TV stays turned off.  It’s not too late for the media but the media has to adapt to the new world.  It has to accept that it has competition for our attention.  Until it does, editorial teams will get smaller and magazines thinner.  Blame will of course be put on advertisers but we all know that advertisers are the effect and not the cause.  Come on media, get social, get engaged and show us what you’re made of.  And stop being so precious about the ‘role’ of the media.  Yes, you have a role but that role is to get us engaged, laughing, crying and doing not just listening to one point of view.


The Media Still Matter

The popular view is that traditional media is dying as we all stop reading the newspapers and instead pass our time on Twitter and Facebook.  For the generation that grew up with the Internet, the idea of reading traditional print media and watching the 6 o’clock news is an anathema.  They get their news and perspective from a raft of sources: friends, Internet friends (bloggers, communities etc), people they follow on Twitter and of course online media.  But it would be wrong to say that the media’s role has been relegated to a bit part.  The media still fuels the vast majority of twitter feeds for the adult world for example.  Indeed without traditional media, Twitter and Facebook would be very dull places.  Sadly the direct consumption of that media has dropped as people opt for the 140 character summary.  This is unlikely to change very soon.  Society now expects us to cram more and more and more in to our day.  In turn we are evolving as entertainment, news and perspective consumers into a population that expects to have its content delivered in a concentrated form.  We expect the middle east crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan and the latest jobless report to be summarized into a sentence or two.  We may be willing to look beyond the headline but a 5000 word article is just not going to be read, unless it is an amazing read, regardless of its import.  For journalists this is a nightmare come true.  These people were/are trained to dissect the news and give us the important perspectives.  They don’t even try to do that in 140 characters, or even 140 words in most cases.  But the future of journalism relies on their ability to adapt to this evolution in consumer behavior.  Some journalists get this and are embracing the opportunities online brings.  Many are simply ignoring the winds of change and are hoping that consumers will simply go back to the good ol’ days, or at least their publishers are.  This isn’t going to happen just like we haven’t all ditched our cars and gone back to riding horses. So, the media must adapt and adapt fast.  Here are some of my thoughts on how it could adapt:

1.  Fragment even faster.  The media has become fragmented but instead of fighting it it could champion it.  Instead of subscribing Forbes we can subscribe to Quentin Hardy.  Instead of making the magazine the icon, make the reporter the rock star.

2.  Create a new content model.  We currently have news, news analysis, features etc.  This model hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years.  Why not have news analysis pieces and features that are 200 words long but link to ten separate features that are also 200 words in length?  In other words make a 2000 word feature a collection of 200 words articles that fit together.

3.  Charge by the article not by the magazine.  We have all got used to iTunes and paying 99c or $1.29 for a track.  Why not offer news related content on the same basis from rock star reporters?

4.  Personalize it.  For over a decade the media has talked about making news more personal.  It hasn’t really happened.  My homepage gathers a bunch of news from traditional sources.  It doesn’t to appear to have learned anything about what I like or don’t like.  At least half the content gets ignored and much of the rest gets only a cursory view.  It’s time for the media to REALLY act in this area.

My view is simple.  The media has all the assets to succeed.  It has talent and content.  It simply needs to rethink its channel strategy.  We all care about the media and we all want the media to succeed but that doesn’t mean we always will.  A diminishing role for the media is a realistic prospect but it isn’t inevitable.

PS – I just realized that most people stopped reading (even if they started) some 3000 characters ago.


Back to school

Across America it’s back to school time.  Families are getting used to packing lunches, the joys of nightly homework and arranging after school activities.  It’s also a time when work calendars fill up as people return from vacations, supposedly refreshed.  Of course in America they don’t take the long vacations that are common in countries such as France and Sweden.  Instead they stretch to ten days, or two weeks if they are feeling particularly brave.  Either way, Americans are now ready to do battle with the economy while their kids do battle with mathematics and English.  In the world of communications and marketing in general, the summer is a quiet period where only a real crisis will garner much attention.  The Fall on the other hand is a period where news floods out as businesses launch products and make acquisitions.  The flood of news does of course make it harder to get people’s attention.  You are, after all, competing with others for your fifteen seconds of fame (the Internet equivalent of Warhol’s prediction).  So does this make sense?  I appreciate it is difficult to get things done over the summer when so many people are away and the argument goes that: what’s the point of announcing things when nobody is around to read about it?  I’d argue that in the age of social and online media, the summer is no longer a dead time for getting attention.  It is merely a dead time for people seeking it.  While I was away I checked on the news, industry and otherwise, everyday on my iPhone and I’m not that unusual.  With today’s technology people hear about the news whether they are at work on a south pacific island.  So it makes me wonder whether companies should rethink summer media madness and use the fact that attention is easier to get to their advantage.  Perhaps, therefore, it’s time for us communications folk to go back to school…


How to make people pay for media

We all consume media on a daily basis.  We love the stuff but we are paying less and less for it as our parents die and we all get our content online.  And as we all know, news online is almost all FREE.  Free isn’t a business model that really works for media.  Good journalism is expensive and tough to support through online advertising.  Rupert Murdoch has responded aggressively to this by putting a charge on many sites such as WSJ.com.  This hasn’t worked too well in part because you can still get to the content through a Google search for free.  He’s threatening to change all that though for the simple reason that they are struggling to make the economics work even with an online subscription model in place.

I have a suggestion for Mr Murdoch and other media moguls.  In the same way that we pay a cable fee in this country and even a TV license in the UK, why not charge a monthly media fee that would enable you to access all the media without having multiple subscriptions.  You’d need an aggregator such as Apple’s iTunes to get in to the mix but I’m pretty convinced that in the same way as people will pay $10 a month for satellite radio, they’d pay $10 a month to access the top 100 publications in the US.  Now there’d be a challenge figuring out which magazine or newspaper got what out of that $10 each month but I’m pretty sure it could be worked out.  It would also enable one player to take over the challenge of managing the online advertising for a host of publications, instead of having a fragmented model as they do today.   It would also mean as a user that you would only need one login.  I’d almost pay $10 a month just for that as I keep forgetting what username and password I have for various online titles.


Why do we want to be entertained?

My wife is convinced I have ADD.  She may have a point in that I struggle to stay focused on anything for longer than 20 minutes and in truth I struggle to read most newspaper articles in their entirety without my mind wandering off.  Part of my problem is that I struggle with content that doesn’t grab my attention and then make a serious attempt to hang on to it.  Like my own blog for instance.  I need content that gets me thinking, makes me laugh, cry etc.  A good book, movie or TV show can do this for millions but what is it about this content that keeps us engaged while other content causes us to head for the coffee maker?  The answer to this question has enormous importance for people in marketing and yet when I’ve subtly, and not so subtly, asked this question to marketers they, like me, have no real answer.  Like me they tend to… well, make something up.

If like me, you decide to look up on the web what keeps people’s attention you will find some pretty weird blog posts that tell you to use the word ‘and’ a lot and to put confetti in your envelopes (I pray that doesn’t happen to me).  Indeed it seems that to holding people’s attention either nobody has written the definitive work, OR the person that has figured it out is Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.

And yet, just as we all like to get attention we all love to give our undivided attention to great content.  Just think about the number of times when talking to friends to talk about books, TV shows, movies and concerts you’ve seen, read etc.  It seems we like both the process of being engaged AND the process of reliving that engagement.  When I started work the founders of my company spent hours each week recounting lines from various Monty Python films or shows.  They derived huge satisfaction from this, much more in fact than they did from the actual work as far as I can tell.  That level of engagement is a marketers dream.  Yet I doubt for a second that anyone who had responsibility for the Python franchise knew why people loved their content.  They just knew they did and they made every effort to take advantage of that.

Of course it may be that trying to capture engagement in a bottle and analyze it is a fruitless exercise.  It may be that the ingredients of fun are a secret we shouldn’t learn.  That said, authors, movie makers and comedians do have formulas they use to create successful products.  We all know that these formulas fail from time to time though.  Witness the Bruno movie that repeated the Borat formula.  In other words even the best of us know only parts of the formula.  As a result the secret ingredient that makes an idea work either shows up and turns it in to good work, or takes a vacation and leaves us bored and rather annoyed.

What is clear is that humans love to be entertained and engaged.  We love a book (Kindle) that we can’t put down.  We love a movie that makes us laugh for days afterwards.  I for one have no idea why we crave this in the same way we crave food that is bad for us but we do.  We seek out great content as if it were that food.  Unlike fattening food, however, this content stimulates our brain and gets us thinking.  Sometimes it gets us to think about profound issues, and sometimes it gets us to think about topics so irrelevant we get to escape our daily lives for a few minutes.

In short, therefore, it seems clear to me that the marketer who could figure out some magic formula for grabbing and keeping our attention will make billions.  Until then we will all keep guessing at that formula time and time again.  Sometimes we will succeed and other times we will fail.  But at least we’ll have fun trying!


Why News Corp has made a mistake

murdo_1457305cNews Corp’s decision to start charging for its web content is in my opinion a mistake.  A huge, can’t believe they really have done this, mistake.  Now I fully appreciate that media content companies are struggling to find a meaningful source of revenue in an online world BUT the move to charge readers in this way is, in my view, a mistake.  The traditional print media world is so different form the online world that applying the same model is flawed.  When you subscribe to a newspaper or magazine you make a lasting commitment for sure.  But your choices are limited.  If you want to get your printed news from a different source one morning you can but it takes effort.  You have to physically go and get it.  The same decision online is a matter of clicks.  Furthermore, news is essentially now free and people don’t want to pay for it.  They can get the basic news from thousands of sources for free so why pay one to deliver it?  What they may pay for is a unique and valued perspective.  BUT that need will change with the content they are viewing. Again, paying for a single day’s perspective in three month cycles or longer isn’t attractive to most people.    Last, thanks to blogs people are becoming more attached to people who create perspective than they are to publications.  Signing up to subscribe to a publication that is online seems to be like renting all the magician’s equipment for your kids birthday party and then finding out that the magician has gone to work elsewhere.

I don’t envy the challenge the media faces here.  It isn’t easy to see a great solution to the revenue challenge other than advertising revenue.  That said the ad revenue model should be something that can be made to work.  Online publications ought to be far more cost effective to produce and thus require less ad revenue to support.  Online publications are also more able to track how users really use their sites by the hour, so they can improve their product far more efficiently.  Indeed when you look at all the advantages online media offers it seems even more sad that News Corp simply defaulted to the old way of charging for media consumption.


Washington Post Tries User Generated Content

The Washington Potwp_logo_300st has announced a competition to find a new pundit.   “Beginning on or about Oct. 30, ten prospective pundits will get to compete for the title of America’s Next Great Pundit.” To make it to the final ten you have to submit a brief, topical, opinion essay.  In a world where traditional media is struggling, this presumably has several benefits:

1.  They get at least ten more readers (at least for a while)

2.  They get some free content from all those who submit an entry

3.  They get a very cheap columnist (the winner will get paid $200 per column for 13 weeks plus $2600).

Now they cant be doing this because they are short of editorial talent, or people that want be on their staff; and I doubt they are really doing this to drive a bargain with existing columnists.  So they are presumably doing this to get some interest in the publication.  Is this going to be like American Idol where we see the really terrible entries as well as the really good ones?  I hope not.  I have to say, that on one level I think it’s great that they are doing this.  It will give some exposure to some great talent.  On another level I’m a little disappointed that a publication like this has to do these things to get readers.