What a difference a day makes. I’ve gone from SXSW to the McGraw-Hill Media Summit in New York. It certainly is a different crowd: jeans to suits and better haircuts and far more people trying to pitch. By the coffee table, I hear a guy saying, “We build communities for large brands.” That is something you would never hear at SXSW because the people there know that’s an impossibility.
Good PowerPointese line from Disney’s Bob Iger: He has shifted from protecting the brand to projecting the brand.
Another: He says Disney isn’t embracing the internet so much as embracing consumers and to be relevant to and reach them, they need to use the technology.
He says they will generate $1 billion in digital revenue in the company up from $750 million the year before (not including online sales to the parks). He says they’ve sold 4 million movies on iTunes and 40-50 million TV episodes, which pales into comparison to streams. Both are incremental — that is, new and additional — to their existing business. He says the DVD business won’t go away but there will be a shift to online delivery.
He cautions that social media isn’t just about Gens X and Y. It’s about kids now. He believes that the broaddband enabled computer will be come a primary entertainment medium for kids. “It’s just as important to them as television.”
Asked what’s the trick for an old-media company to get it, Iger responds, “Hire new people.” He says you need people who look at technology as a friend not a foe, not talking about challenges and fragmentation. (The kind of people at SXSW.)
Google is no threat, he says. Disney is a popular search term. He knows that Google sends him people and rather than seeing Google’s ad sales on top of that as a problem, he wants his company to find ways to make the experience of coming from Google better.
He talks about Disney as an American brand worldwide. He says he respects the need for local creation of content and so in local markets they set up creative centers, not just distribution centers. (I wish he were around in 1991 when my bosses at Time Warner killed — muzzled — my column at Entertainment Weekly because I dared to say that local content support could be a good thing. “How can you say that?” demanded one of the company’s editors. I stopped writing my column then, in protest, and soon quit the magazine. This was only one of my problems.)
Next, a panel with big, old media companies: Julia Wallace of hte Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jon Klein of CNN, Kinsey Wilson of USA Today, David Westin of ABC.
“The paper I read most often is the Pocono Record,” says Raines, ex-editor of the New York Times. He says that local is the value of local newspapers. And that quote will float around his old shop in a few minutes.
Asked about the Times, Raines says they need to decide whether to go head-to-head nationally with Murdoch and the Journal. I thought it was the other way around. Isn’t the national report the high ground? Raines says no. He points to the Washington Post’s contraction strategy, pulling back into inside the Beltway. He says that the Times may need to come up with a contraction as opposed to an expansion strategy. “Common sense tells you that when your stock was at $54 in the mid 90s and it’s now at, what, $18 and the son of an Alabama construction millionaire has bought 20 percent of your company… your stock price cannot sit there.”
What should the New York Times do? Lightning round. Klein: “Stop writing about themselves.” Wallace: “Become that voice for the intellectuals of America on any platform.” Wilson: Long pause. Then he agrees with Howell — contraction. Westin: “It sounds right … that they’re in a middle ground that is not sustainable right now, neither fish nor fowl.”He says he doesn’t know whether the contraction is about local or a set of subjects of readers. Raines: “I think Julia’s idea of going for that elite, intellectual audience is a sound one.”
Klein answers moderator Jon Fine’s question about what job they’d fill first if they had a budget to start a new news product: “I’d hire data miners.” Right. Hunters. Gatherers. Searchers. Vetters. Curators. Right. “If you do it the right way, you’ve got the audience telling you an awful lot.” And that helps.
Fine gives a question that came in response to his blog post on the panel: Is there a supply-side problem? Is there too much news? Will there be a consolidation. Well, I’d say, there’s not too much news. But choice hurts one-size-fits-all products. There’s a supply-side problem for them, but it’s not that there is too much. There’s just too much for the old control point.
Wallace says the demand for news is higher than ever. I agree. And, as I’ve said before (but can’t link to it because there’s no wi-fi in this auditorium… grrrr) we are in the post-scarcity economy. Those who made their business by controlling that scarcity are the ones in trouble. And that is these guys if they don’t change their essential models, which they’re trying to figure out.
Westin says that they will not win on covering, say, the bridge collapse because that news is a commodity. But the Rep. Foley story is where they will win because that was reporting. There, he argues, there is an undersupply. Wilson says that is the discussion happening in newsrooms across the country: minimizing commodity effort and maximizing unique reporting value.
Fine asks them how they’d organize their newsrooms if they were doing it from scratch today. Klein says they’d have a lot fewer people. He tells about taking a feed via Skype (because Jeff Toobin went to law school of Eliot Spitzer and was on an island with no satellite uplinks); today, he says, he’d buy a lot fewer trucks and buy more laptops. (Or soon mojo phones, I’d say.)
Asked what is its high ground, its unique value, Wilson gives a characteristically smart answer: He says that USA Today is perceived as a down-the-middle voice, something it has cultivated since the start and something that is more valuable in a time when news organizations are perceived as having agendas. But then he acknowledges that it is difficult to bring that to online when the web wants voice and perspective.
I ask Klein what they’ll do when people out here are broadcasting live from their phones via Qik.com and Flixwagon.com etc. He says that iReport.com will be “a home for unvetted material.” He says they haven’t dealt with live material but they’re getting there. He wouldn”t put the CNN brand on it until it is vetted.