The Consumer (Truly) Empowered

My first job out of graduate school was at a broadcast network where, in the late 70s, we used to joke that owning a broadcasting license was like a license to print money because it was so easily profitable. Good times. When cable came into the picture in the 80s there was initial discomfit but no real cause for alarm. And soon, many broadcasters either bought or launched their own cable networks so the television hierarchy remained intact. Viewers craving home entertainment were still captive to the television delivery box as we always knew it. Yes, customers were paying more for television but it expanded the choices available and was for many, worth the cost. Thus began the slippery slope for media companies.

Fast forward to the 21st century as we come face to face with the end of the television network model as we know it. We always like to give lip service to the viewer. “The viewer chooses”, we like to say. But it is never as true as today and many major media companies from magazines to newspapers to radio to television are at a loss as to how to fully monetize. Not only can viewers choose, they rule.

There are many factors placing stress on the current model such as the explosion of viewing sources and devices (many of which inter-relate with each other), faster connectivity so higher quality video can be delivered almost anywhere, burgeoning consumer choice and flexibility at a lower cost point, creation of new content on the consumer side in addition to the professional side as well as a plethora of new and finely divined data sources that challenge Nielsen’s measurement currency.

About five years ago I sat across from a senior executive of a network group and told him that we needed to bulk up our websites, negotiate for full program rights and create unique original content for the web because within the next 3 to 5 years viewers would be watching television on their computer. He said it wouldn’t happen because the industry could not monetize it. “Websites are just for marketing and branding the network”, he said. But now it doesn’t matter what we can or can’t monetize. The consumer is driving this change, not the media companies.

There are too many short term thinkers in the industry. How else to explain the crash and burn of so many once great media properties? As long as we reward short term thinking in place of long term strategies we will always be at the mercy of outside influences that reshape our industry beyond our control.

And yet, I see potential opportunities which are not short term or quick fixes.

 Radio and print could arguably have the most to gain from the internet revolution. They can, for the first time, break out of their historical media forms. A radio or magazine website can stream video, for example. And, no longer limited to the strength of its signal, a radio station site can reach a listener anywhere and everywhere, programming as many genres as there are tastes.

 For all media forms there is global advertising potential. I viewed Susan Boyle’s video on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent website which was skinned with a Domino’s ad. There are many global brands. So why aren’t more American media companies reaching out to global advertisers … or creating new global advertisers? If I can buy British Telecom stock on the internet, why wouldn’t BT advertise to me on CNBC, CNN or Fox News outlets?

 New ways of using media require new metrics and measurements. There are more and more data sources, collected in real time and offering highly granular data points for valuable insights and trends. Let’s finally move from age and gender posting and create more up-to-date measurement systems that reflect a 360 degree media buy… or should we say a 720 degree buy taking into account the multi-tasking and interactivity of platforms?

The future of media is filled with opportunity if we are prescient enough to take advantage of it and cooperative enough to reach some consensus on certain issues such as measurement. Mitch Oscar of MPG has formed a committee on the latter and there are many strategic researchers at media companies who can contribute to the former, should senior management decide to listen.

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