Wednesday, May 23, 2007


"Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable by a competent historian."
Lee Simonson

The Digital Media Empire
by Joe Marchese, Tuesday, May 22, 2007 12:16 PM ET

THE DEATH OF PRINT NEWS is inevitable. Even with the timeline still very much in question, news printed on dead trees with ink that will come off on your hands, containing stories you'll never read, or interesting ones that were restricted by arbitrary print deadlines, already out of date in an age of instantaneous digital information access, sooner or later will go the way of the VHS. So what? If traditional media empires were really only differentiated by their logistical ability to distribute a physical good by a certain time every morning, then FedEx and UPS would have put News Corp. and Time Warner out of business a long time ago. Delivering the news means infinitely more than pushing paper. The pains currently being experienced by print news media are merely a result of massive economic misalignments as people adopt new methods of consuming news media -- while the appropriation of advertising dollars to new news media lags woefully behind. There are two main reasons for this. First, the development of advertising distribution technologies significantly trails news media distribution technologies. It's not advertising technologies' fault; even the most creative people need to see what new media distribution and consumption look like before they can invent methods for monetizing the medium. How long was search around before search advertising hit its stride?
The second major pain point for traditional news media outlets is the layer of complexity caused by major media organizations' dependence on brand advertising and brand advertisers' reluctance/inability to spend appropriately through new media. Not only are advertising/monetization technologies extremely insufficient to support "media empires" in their current form, but there needs to be a sea change in industry thinking, in the form of an entirely new currency and marketplace for media publishers to extract the full value of their services to people and advertisers.

At a macro level, people having roughly the same consumption demands, and having numerous options for satisfying those demands, should result in marketers continuing to dedicate a similar level of resources to influence people's consumption choices. This will mean leveraging decades of knowledge developed regarding brand building and brand equity. If the medium providing that influence opportunity is digital, then marketers' resources (re: dollars) will follow. And if the number of opportunities for delivering brand message through digital media is reduced and/or efficiency in message delivery is increased, then the market price for these opportunities will increase so that total dollars dedicated will remain constant (in the hypothetical "long run").

The ability for digital media to deliver influence opportunities (what markets have always bought) will rely solely on its ability to provide the same value it always has to the people. The real value-add services provided by a digital media empire will be the same as those provided by a "traditional" media empire: to satiate the need for information while maintaining journalistic integrity. The traditional media organizations have decades of experience doing this. Dow Jones and the New York Times have the organizational DNA necessary to continue to deliver the news, even if it doesn't mean delivering newspapers.

There will be extremely tough times ahead as traditional media organizations attempt to continue operations while a significant portion of consumer attention shifts to a digital medium that's only driving a small percentage of revenue. There will be the need to drastically shift operational expense structures. But the only people that can really destroy the true value of today's news media giants are the shareholders of said giants, by attempting to gut operational budgets to adjust to the short-run monetization capabilities of today's embryonic digital media economy.

Simply because the market has not figured out the appropriate currency and monetization method for digital distribution of news does not mean that the true societal value of the news organization has suddenly eroded. It just means there is a new storm to weather and climate to adapt to. And the prize for the fortitude and foresight needed to weather, and even take advantage of, the storm is the formation of the first digital media empire.

Joe Marchese is President of Archetype Media, developing the next generation brand advertising platform, and aiming to bridge the gap between Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley.

No comments: