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The Media Industry Needs a Swift Kick in the Keister

Posted by on September 18, 2014

The Great Media Industry Fiasco

There was a time when it seemed like every company wanted to evolve into a media company; whether it was the humble parking lot beginnings of Time-Warner, or liquor giant Seagram assimilating Universal, to Disney gobbling up ABC (I have a funny story about that). OK, I won’t go into the whole story but the punchline was a very senior ABC exec telling me “We unequivocally will never, ever to any kind of business with the Walt Disney Company!”

Now most media concerns are in deep shit; they remind me of politicians dreaming about the wonderful nostalgia of living in the US in the 1950s – those days will never come again for politics or media.

Radio, TV operators and newspaper publishers are missing the point as they try and attract new audiences:

the fundamental way that the millennials obtain their entertainment and information has changed. Forever. Period.

Twenty year olds aren’t going to wake up some day and think “gee, maybe I will subscribe to the newspaper.” Unless of course, Twitter or Facebook go into the print media business, which is inconceivable.

So terrestrial broadcasters and newspapers have tried (half-heartedly) to adapt their revenue model to the internet, with poor results.

Radio websites remind me of the era when large broadcasting companies ‘discovered’ they owned FM frequencies. “Oh, we have an FM station? How cute!” And they went back to running their 50 kw AM giants oblivious to what was going to happen with radio listeners down the road.

Terrestrial radio owners today are out pushing their 30 and 60 spots, just like they always have (still one of the best advertising values on a CPM basis), and using web impressions as a BONUS to on-air schedules. Backwards!

You have a built-in set of potential eyeballs for your website with your radio audience, and if there is one thing message on the radio does well, passively, its drive traffic. You should be using your signal/audience as a traffic builder for the website, charging more for web ads, and providing a bonus schedule on the air.

Radio has also seemed to have lost track of why people listen. Radio has been a companion listeners invite into their homes, cars, and offices – a medium that is LOCAL and IMMEDIATE. The industry has forgotten how to perform in that way, instead relying on computer programs that tell air personalities what to say, when, and what to play. Audience interaction has all but disappeared, especially with the advent of the mega owner groups that rely so heavily on centralized talent / shows broadcast at the same time into dozens of markets across the U.S. Radio has become the media equivalent of a store brand – generic. Dull.

The newspaper industry is similar but a bit different as it has always had the financial cushion of subscriber income. As they lost their bread and butter income (primarily classifieds) (the Sunday Chicago Tribune has about three pages of want ads today; I remember when they used to have six or seven 10-15 page sections of job ads – ouch.)

But subscriber income was nominal, and intended to pay some basic costs of newspaper companies, as there were inherent costs in running a paper – particularly personnel, newsprint, and distribution. The days of a 25 cent paper covering the costs of newsprint are long gone and will never return.

So the newspaper industry came up with their “new model” of subscription costs – the internet paywall. There are different versions of the concept: 1) read a couple stories for free each month, pay if you want full content; 2) answer these (less than 8 or 4) questions to continue reading this story (so annoying).

So far, it’s not working. I’ve never understood why media companies get to charge coming and going; in my mind, you’re either an advertiser supported media distributed for free, or a non-advertising model that users pay for. (Don’t even get me started on cable, especially Comcast, a financial model that is particularly offensive).

I suspect that newspapers (and cable, too) could do better financially with an ala carte approach. The whole ‘sum of the parts’ thing.

Newspapers in particular have huge archives of already amortized content, text and media, that they own.

Instead of just putting the daily edition on line with one search box, an edition which undoubtedly has tones of content that many readers aren’t interested in, build separate sites, sell separate subscriptions, thereby not only producing a competitive local product, but one that can go up against certain niche titles nationally.

I see no reason why a paper can’t have separate sites by segment: national, international, local news, politics, national sports (broken down BY sport), college sports, local sports. Sunday feature sections, Food, Arts, and so on.  How about just photo archives, and users can order prints. (If you haven’t sold off the rights in a previous cash crunch).

After all many publishers have successfully done this with print editions. A few months ago, I would have said it might have been tough to compete on a hyper local basis with the potential PATCH had. But as poor a job as PATCH did under AOL’s ownership, the new and improved PATCH with a new owner is even worse.

So have  at it, big city dailies. You have the archives as well as a constant stream of new material; the archived material is going to require a little editing, coding, keywords, but other than that, you’re going to be able to accomplish this with little to no cost.  That’s what interns are for.

But give us a break on site speed, would you? Someone, somewhere, told newspaper sites that it was ok  to have 10 or more ad servers on the front page, reducing loading speed to the equivalent of dial-up. Less ads, higher rates. Get on it.

Cable? Same thing. Why are producers and studios even supplying cable anymore instead of going direct? My first cable service was “Teleprompter” and it cost two bucks a month. Now I have a zillion channels, most of which are shit or not of interest, and I am paying an arm and a leg.

Here’s what I want: locals, a few national news, selected entertainment channels, and one or two premiums. Period. No sports. No shopping. No kids. No religion. No foreign language.

Let me pay you by the channel, and ship in to my phone, tablet, or Roku device. I’ll be a happy camper, and I can rip the coax off the back of the house and not have to deal with Comcast’s HORRIBLE OFFSHORE CUSTOMER SERVICE. Surely Comcast’s CEO Brian Roberts has never called his own customer service line. He should.

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