Tough love for media

Here in a bit more friendly video format is the keynote I gave to the Munich Media Days (in English) a week ago, which I linked to earlier. I decided to be blunt and tough and tell them I was worried about the protectionist talk I’ve been hearing from Germany and that they need to have hard discussions about the change that will waft over there from here. Carta also put up a transcript.

Jeff Jarvis: “Google is not an enemy, Google is a model” from Carta on Vimeo.

  • “Thomsen asked: How important is technology for media companies these days and in the future?”

    The characteristics of a technology dictate the characteristics and structure of those industries and enterprises that exploit that technology. “Technology” is always is of paramount importance…

    The traditional, and still current, media industry is optimized to exploit the technologies of the past. The print daily news business, for instance, developed into a set of minimally overlapping geographical monopolies as a direct response to the characteristics of available technology. Paper can only be shipped a finite distance from printing plants in a given period of time thus, the market size of daily newspapers was limited by the speed of printing presses and the speed of delivery trucks. Also, given that any geography had readers of diverse interests and perspectives, it was necessary for new media to print “objective” news in order to present a product that could be consumed by the largest possible number of people within the available geographic region. Additionally, monopoly pricing power and the resulting excess profits enabled media organizations to rely on employee journalists for the bulk of their content production. (Wire services and syndicates were used as a cost-savings mechanism.) The result was little competition between journalists within any particular market — hiring decisions were made based on ability to please a publisher or editor — not on ability to please the market or address market needs.

    Traditional US national television news was similarly defined by technology. Although nation-wide distribution was made possible via local affiliates and repeater stations, national news broadcasters were forced to present “objective” news in order to present a product acceptable to the highest percentage of viewers in the many geographies. Because the national market was so much larger than the market for any paper, the pressure to do “objective” (i.e. non-partisan) news was greater on network news than on any individual newspaper. (i.e. There used to be no national TV news equivalent of the “Manchester Union Leader”…)

    The Internet, cable TV, Sirius, etc. now make it economically possible to have a wide variety of non-geographically defined news delivery networks at reasonable cost. The result is that new news organizations are now able to build market share by addressing the needs of specific groups of individuals selected from many geographic areas rather than being forced to address all members of the potential audience. Thus, we have The HuffingtonPost (left) online, MSNBC (left) and Fox News (right) on cable, and Howard Stern (Left and raunchy) on sat-radio.

    Today, news providers build market share by addressing the differences among audience members rather than by focusing on their similarities. The “common narrative” of the past is being replaced by a journalism of “interest” and “perspective”…

    But, the new technology not only pushes us away from a common, “objective” narrative, it also makes the aggregation of work product from diverse journalists much easier. Like water, which follows the path of least resistance, the result will be that new media organizations will inevitably focus more on aggregating content and less on in-house content production. Aggregation means that you can select the lowest-cost provider of any particular kind or quality of content. It also makes it possible to exploit content producers who monetize their efforts in multiple contexts and thus are able to appear less expensive. The result will be cost competition among journalists (even though compensation for journalists is likely to increase) and reduced costs for the aggregators…

    The new technology pushes us inexorably towards a news of “interest and perspective” and away from the “common narrative” in so doing, we’ll benefit from an increased “democratization” in the news — more segments of society will have their needs addressed. At the same time, we’ll see growing divisions within society as the absence of a common narrative makes discourse more difficult.
    The new technology pushes us inexorably towards a market that supports a much larger number of individual and focused journalistic producers whose work is aggregated into broader scope products. This will result in greater quality of journalism on specialist interests being made available across the board as well as probably increased revenues to individual journalists who are successful at becoming leaders in particular market segments. But, once again, this pressure towards fragmentation among the producers (journalists) will tend to increase the diversity of opinion and perspective and accelerate the loss of a “common narrative.”

    The stuff I describe above isn’t necessarily “good” or “what I want”, etc. It is simply what the technology dictates. The structure of industries and enterprises is largely defined by the anecdotal characteristics of the technologies they exploit…

    bob wyman

  • Rob Levine

    >>>Axel Springer has an impressive amount of its revenue now in digital, which American companies don’t have

    But not enough: Springer is one of the companies petitioning the German government for tougher copyright laws.

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