Recent Entries in Old media

sprout.jpgSpecific details are sparse, but has The Seattle Times cracked the code to staying profitable in 2009?
In a walk to grab coffee with Mike, I starting thinking about how much I was looking forward to tonight's new episode of 30 Rock.  It hadn't occurred to me that it might actually be a repeat; I just got it in my head that Thursday = 30 Rock = likely a new episode.

My brain-wires had apparently shorted and took itself back to 10 years ago, when we used to rush home on specific days at specific times so we didn't miss TV.  (This fuse was particularly suitable to the mid-90's stranglehold NBC had had on Thursday nights.)  Today with our DVR's, who rushes home for broadcasts?  Let the show wait for us, we say!

And yet there are still shows that resonate so deeply that you can't help but need the most immediate consumption possible.  I actually could wait a night for new 30 Rock's.  But in this recent last season of Battlestar Galactica?  Not a chance.  My fiance & Gossip Girl: night of; it's practically a law.  My mom recently got a DVR and records about 98% of all television, and yet new Grey's Anatomy is a reason to leave Thursday nights commitment-less.

In a period of time-less television (as in scheduling, certainly not in terms of quality), we still find ourselves the occasional slave to programming.  Even online versions of broadcast shows has us calculating viewings on the fly.  And in this period, the networks cry foul: if viewers timeshift, ad revenue plummets.

Woe is the channel with slightly less money.

But if networks had such compelling content that viewers couldn't help but have to be a part of the most exclusive event possible - watching it live - then when the first ad block hits, there's no future for the DVR button to fast forward to: viewers are forced to watch.  (Or at least chat about the first segment. Or flip to another channel.  Or get up to pee.)  The music industry is finally adapting to this new digital model: abandon all hope of sales profits, and focus capitalization on singular, non-repeatable experiences.

I remember Battlestar Galacticas last seasons' episodes far more than the earlier ones because they were the most compelling.  To the point where I can even recall the ad campaigns run during that time.  (Nerd alert, in 3... 2... 1...) On a Friday night, I wanted nothing more than to get home, open a beer, hit the couch, and utterly consume the final episodes.  In a way, today, I can say, "I was there".

In this era of timeshifting, on-demand, and endless content, you better give us something truly compelling - addictive even - if you expect us to stop blogging, creating videos, or rocking the plastic guitar.
A few weeks ago, during a conversation about re-branding, a very smart, very fun friend said the following:

"I hate advertising, but I love marketing."

Here are some great visuals that contrast the two areas (also available as .pdf), discovered in a quick Google search for "advertising marketing difference": 
marketing_vs_advertising.gifOversimplified, yes, but very much on point.  Where marketing simply attempts to get a message across to consumers, advertising is almost entirely self-serving and rarely gives much of anything to consumers; at least not anything real or long-lasting.  Marketing - good marketing - focuses on building up a brand, which appropriately evokes a positive, mutually beneficial system, whereas traditional and even newer, cleverer advertising techniques tend to be purely disruptive.

This is not to say marketing is immune to criticism, or that all of advertising should be eradicated.  But if we think of the two as resting on opposite ends of the same balance scale, trends show marketing dominating, carrying much more weight as substantively more effective with consumers, and thus a much more effective market for the future.  In all likelihood, 2008 will be known as the last year in which advertising as we knew it existed and (barely) thrived, and 2009 as the first year of a potential rebirth.  No one can be sure if there will actually be any real adaptation, because again, looking back at the last few years, advertisers have not integrated well into new systems.  (Simply uploading your TV spot to YouTube does not, a viral phenomenon or digital strategy, make.)

Exemplifying the decline of advertising we need only look at the current state of two of media's most coveted channels: newspapers and television.  Newspapers circulation and advertising revenue are in catastrophic declines, and, likely escalated by the global financial crisis, in the last month of 2008 are beginning to collapse entirely.  There is little surprise; newspapers' death knoll had been declared years ago, in the midst of the first internet bubble.  Nonetheless, they collectively represent an aged institution, with an inability to truly innovate and adapt to revolutionary trends.

Television has now also found itself in a similar quandary.  With the rise of time-shifting, ad-skipping digital recordings, executives are sweating and the voices are crying out to transform old models into something more adept for the predictable future.  After all, television began as an advertising channel with content simply sprinkled in almost as an afterthought.  Over time, it's since tweaked the levels and structure of sponsorship communication, but the vessel's business model remains largely untouched, and almost entirely unprepared for the challenge it faces now.

Today, in this digital age, consumers are not only empowered, but they've become incredibly savvy, and with intense message filtration.  Offline, they have forgone purchasing tangible newspapers, shut out print advertisements, and are literally skipping TV commercials.  Online, they are blind to banners, deaf to ads.  By no stretch of the imagination should a  0.5% click-through rate be considered a success; it is a 99.5% failure.  Even American League pitchers at bat are held to a higher standard.

Marketing digitally, which stems more from a real function of communication, is evidence of adaptation in an ever-changing environment.  Brands need only to leverage channels and tools available for communicating (softly), to outreach to - not yell at - their consumers, and to constructively build themselves up.  Include a modest amount of advertising, sure, but be overly cautious with ad spending.  Focus on organic growth and cultivating real relationships with consumers.  Build the foundation and create passionate brand ambassadors.

The digital world is thriving because of marketing, not advertisements.  If the internet had a sign at the entrance, it would read: Turn away, advertising, for ye have no purpose here.
The morning after the election, as I ran through my morning routine, I thought I might pick up a copy of The New York Times on the way to the office, for posterity's sake.  After a week's worth of reporting, it's well known that newspapers were incredibly hard to find on the morning of November 5, 2008.  But over the course of that morning - until I could get online, that is - what I was experiencing was very singular and personal.

It wasn't until I was settled in the warm cozies of the Undercurrent office, sucking in news like a Dyson, did I realize what a shared experience even the aftermath of the election was having on us.  Which sounds obvious, since we had just elected a new leader of the free world.  But I'm thinking beyond just an insignificant morning whim.  The inability to find a copy of a newspaper is an ironic microcosm of the print industry itself.  In fact, the sweeping morning paper sales wasn't just a byproduct of the election: the election itself may have been the (second of two) tipping points that accelerates the end of the printed newspaper.

I point to two significant indicators: President-elect Obama's transition towards more transparency, openly communicative government, and the Christian Science Monitor shifting to a web-based strategy, the first newspaper to do so.  CSM transitioning online can be valued in and of itself, but when we look back, it will be recognized for it's role in the larger scheme.  And President-elect Obama's continued embrace of the internet for open information flow - and hopefully more community development online, like - means more people going first to the web for their information, since they can get it faster and with less filter.  If CSM was the snowball that kicked off the larger avalanche, then Obama's use of all things digital are the rocks and trees and slopes that shape the coming landscape.

Printed newspapers are fast becoming collectors items that stamp and date in history, and that's all.  The majority of those November 5, 2008 issues will end up in a mylar bag in a basement, like a first edition comic book.  It's hard to imagine institutions like the CS Monitor, the NY Times, and the Washington Post becoming so radically altered that they no longer physically exist, nevermind fathoming the entire newspaper print industry actually disappearing.  But the limbs - all of them - very well may need to be amputated if the head (reporting) is ever going to survive.
Old media: static and one-sided, it doesn't always give the most accurate - or whole - account of events.  Take this CNN ticker blurb:

New media: the ability to relive the experience through capturing video and audio.

Okay, I realize this is the third post about the New York Times in two weeks.  But bear with me as I again rely on them as trusted pioneers in a noble-and-desperate industry.

It was announced this week that the Times is converging their media coverage into one consolidated desk [NY Observer].  What was once an aggregated collective between Business Day and Culture is melding into a new department that will "feed the news needs of both, as well as the feature wells of Sunday Business and Arts & Leisure".

Looking back at the Times' recent trend of digital exploration and execution, as well as its new media coverage, this is an interesting development for the paper.  While it continues to suffer the same industry setbacks - more layoffs and section consolidation / cut-backs - it is also innovating and redefining what a print newspaper can be in the digital era.

Here's how I see this playing out: The Times more readily covers new media and digital phenomena under this hybrid department, like last weekend's article on Twitter and ambient awareness.  Topics will be centrally identified ("Twitter"), but covered with broader cross-departmental insight and input.  The newspaper then more closely mirrors the way we converse about new media; from a general news / happening perspective ("I just joined Twitter; are you on?"), a business perspective ("How does Twitter stay afloat?" "Has anyone monetized Twitter yet?"), cultural and social perspectives ("I never follow people unless I know them." "I met my best friend on Twitter."), and of course a technological perspective ("Will Twitter ever add fake-following or at least fix their downtime issues?").

I wouldn't be surprised if the weekly Digital section of the paper expanded to daily within the next six months.  Nor would I be surprised to stumble on a rival organizations coverage of the Times' digital innovations.  Though the challenge of sufficiently monetizing remains...

Clive Thompson, a contributor to publications like The New York Times and Wired, has an excellent article in this weekend's Times Magazine covering "ambient awareness", called "I'm So Totally, Digitally Close to You".  It digs deep into the mentality and psychology behind users of digital social networks.  Get past the initial Facebook portion of the article, and you're rewarded with the most clear, articulate answer to the question, "Twitter - why?", I've ever seen in print.

Carve out 15 minutes and dig in.  If you don't use Twitter, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you read.  And if you do use Twitter, as I do, there's some interesting self-reflected enlightenment for you as well.
You probably know about the dire situation that the newspaper industry is in.  With the rise of the internet, people have been getting their news online for free, and less and less people are buying and reading physical copies of newspapers.  Revenues are down, losses are up, whole departments are being let go.

What's interesting about the New York Times is ever since their redesign a couple years back, they've been putting up more and more interactive content.  It started with basic videos of news pieces and rich media slideshows.  Last week on their site, accompanying a basic article in the published paper about last stops on NYC subway lines, the Times put out a rich media, (somewhat) interactive complement for the article, with content you can only get online, like videos and high-quality color photography.  Some of the Times' interactive efforts are a little behind the curve, like their penchant for 3D panoramas; though they do provide a level of immersion flat photographs - online or in print - just don't match.

My favorite feature is video speeches with accompanying transcripts that allow you to click to any block of the speech text and jump to that segment of the video.  However you prefer to absorb the content - watching the video from beginning to end, reading the transcript from top to bottom, or jumping back and forth, queuing up only the segments you want to see & hear, and skimming through the rest - is there for you to use.  There's even a clickable outline to the overall speech (presumably for lengthier ones), so you can jump to full portions of the speech, creating a kind of 'powers of 10' feel.

A lot of these features may have been around with the Times for a while, and there may be even more in-depth efforts with other publications, like the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal.  I wouldn't really know because a) I don't dwell on the Times' site as long as I might read a print edition (another of the newspapers' woes), and b) other than occasional guilty (and necessary) dabbling with the aggregation of the Drudge Report, my primary news source / brand preference is almost exclusively with the Times.

It's tough to see the newspaper industry struggle without clear solutions to adapting and monetizing to the digital world, but exclusive online features like these certainly help.  Here's hoping the Times is around long enough to see a turned tide.

The New York Times is a great source for interesting, useful infographics.  One such infographic, from an article in the Feb. 24, 2008 edition, displays the Pittsburgh Pirates' slow decline into the annals of Major League Baseball's septic tank.  Just look at those curves arc downward!

pirates_history_small.jpg (Click the graphic for the full version.)


Eric Tabone is Operations Manager at the digital strategy consultancy, Undercurrent. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his awesome wife and two kick-ass cats.

All original opinions and commentary throughout this blog (comments excluded) are Eric's alone, and do not necessarily represent Undercurrent in any way.


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