Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Media - An Industry Perspective

The media business, from flyers to movies, from consumption on paper, then the big screen and the little screen, from Gutenberg  to Gates, never ceases to amaze at its ability to effect the direction of human endeavour; it is undoubtedly the key modality of influence. If the the message is the media, then we are the sub-straight - both in our ability to generate media and to consume it. While some of the "old" medias are challenged, in large part, new media means we consume more - the slate is in use, electronic tablets are in use. While  we are the true media sub-straight, the digital reality has generated a universal medium on which the entire human enterprise is now represented. 

There is a beauty in the fact, the every person now can effect their ripple of influence in the ocean of human activity, the digital revolution is effecting the democratization of the people in an unprecedented way, as there is less opportunity now to withhold, shape or obstruct information flow to the masses by the established. We have moved from Walter Cronkite to the flash mob, from bastions of credibility to authority in question, from Lord Beaverbrook to the personal website - this transformation in media, in the same way that life intimidates art and life gives birth to art - is disrupting the entire social construct. No other event in history has fragmented the meta narrative so rapidly - it has replaced the idol rockstar with the a rebirthed traveling mistral, it has given rise to the digital artisan, it has given wings to the tradition artisans, it has given the individual access to the masses. 

There is promise and peril in these events. The traditionalists are fearful of the disintegration of long held narratives, fearful of a moral reformation, fearful that the dark side of humanity will somehow gain traction absent long held authorities sway over content. The promise in a liberated medium is that the beauty in humanity will find its full expression, that the ideals of youth will be given voice, that the march of enlightenment will be accelerated, that Stephen Hawking and Winston Churchill will be given equal billing - there is no more exciting or dynamic space than the new media space.  

The observation of most significance to me, more even than the power of the new media, has been the sustained durability of the old, Who would have thought newspapers would have survived five minutes against a medium as rich as the internet. The takeaway in large measure is that technology can only penetrate those it can touch, media's users block medias introduced by indifference. The floodgates are opened now for new media, as digital delivery has reached critical mass - the interactive screen is as ubiquitous as the quart of milk. 

Excerpt From Business Concept - Written in 2006

Media integration to date has had mixed results and in many cases limited success. It seems however, that “Convergence”, which represents the attempts at media integration to date, has been a logical course of events with only partial implementation. 

Convergence to date has been pursued by large firms purchasing various traditional media outlets and allowing those outlets to operate in much the same way as they have in the past. “Convergence” as it has manifested today has produced no real benefit, other than perhaps small synergies associated with administration, a bit of cross marketing and the increased access to profits via acquisition. The process of convergence has been a television broadcaster purchasing a newspaper, with the two entities functioning under common ownership in parallel, with little real INTEGRATION. 

It is the observation of the writer that the greater an industry is taxed by competition, the more integrated it becomes and hence the better it responds to competition. This integration can occur vertically intra-company or along a supply chain inter-company. In all cases the segmentation of production or process occurs along the various elements of delivery of product or service. Convergence to date in the media industry has siloed the elements of process by media type and failed to access synergies that could occur by collapsing inter-media type outlet barriers and integrating processes (still true in 2014 in many cases).

All media consists of fundamental elements; the collection of information, the assembly of information into a marketable form and the delivery of information to the market. To date there has been a weak evolution of companies toward convergence (integration), when there exists an opportunity to engineer a completely integrated media company, with a business model that addresses the key elements of information delivery, utilizing the full panoply of media available in the digital age. One needs to view the various present media types, TV, Radio, Newspaper, internet as mere substrates; functioning under a single digital umbrella. (The industry is still siloed, in Canada that is due in large measure to our regulatory regime)   

The design of a New Media company begins by accessing the foundation elements and exploring human functions associated with them, and then exploring methods of levering that human function through a completely integrated format.

Content is king, from its inception, either via a creator or happenstance, to its delivery to its consumer; original, compelling content drives user-ship. The key with content, more than ever, is capturing it early and attaching your monetization mechanism in as integrated a manner as possible. This process begins with building business at the grassroots, this is a 180 degree turn from traditional media, where the grassroots needed to like what you fed them, now, the grassroots generate content that you can enhance, manipulate - it is the most massive green vegetable exercise in human history.  

Excerpt from 2006

The integrated media company brings the marketing function to the advertiser as opposed to just advertising. This degree of integration also removes media type bias in the marketing product offering; allowing greater opportunity for any one sales person to deliver results to the advertiser. Presently when an advertising offering is delivered to the market it arrives fragmented into media types, integration provides a multi media opportunity from a single source.

As a result of the digitalization of the media process, the full scope of product can now be accessed within a common skill set. The ability to edit digital images stationary or moving - for print, TV, or a subway poster, can be readily managed by a single person who understands the digital world. Naturally there is specialization efficiency that befalls these tasks, and as market magnitude allows organizational specialization can occur, digital technology provides opportunity for perfect scaling in any market. 

Given modern technological realities, a complete product offering is defined by what technology allows, as opposed to the traditional media business models that have evolved as separate companies in an atmosphere of disparate technologies. Given the unifying quality of digital media, the product scope can include everything from the sign  on the front door, the thirty second TV ad, the newspaper, the website, internet TV sports cast or the regional magazine … the full media breadth is now available under one technological umbrella. 

In 2014 there still is an absence of real integration in the media space, even with the digital reality. This is due in part to the fact that people are committed to media by habit, they simply go to the same place as they are accustom to, as electronic hardware is gaining penetration, the opportunity for integration increases. The siloing that exists at present will break down, it is being maintained by the CRTC and because the industry leadership, and industry participation in general, has yet to evolve away from traditional delivery models. To some degree, stranded capital has stranded the industry. 

The media space, now more than ever, is a purely intellectual space - in effect media companies only have one asset line item - GOODWILL. When an opportunity comes out of the ether to actuate a business model that negates a company's entire GOODWILL and renders its functionality moot, its rare that the management has the courage to look that kind of disruption in the eye. Couple this reality with the fact that the media space's ownership is highly concentrated, perhaps more so in Canada relative to other OECD countries, and one begins to see the why the evolution to a fully integrated use of the digital space has yet to find full expression. 

The key from my perspective is to own and consider, the collection and delivery of information as the primary activity of a media enterprise. Information collection and delivery: from public to the public, from the advertisers to public, from the public to the advertisers, from business to business is the grist of media, there needs be no attachment anymore to media type - the only determining factor now in the media space is how one collects and packages data in a manner that it is consumed. This seem so obvious, one might be afraid to say it outloud, but look at the industry and one sees no one really has. 

Data Collection and Delivery Synergies 

Historically there was a delivery process called the paperboy, they delivered the newspaper full stop; in a fully integrated media company he is a data collector, as there may be no paper to deliver at all. When one views the paperboys function through the lens of basic functions in the context of an integrated media company, what was the paper delivery person becomes a highly skilled individual utilizing the full digital opportunity. What was once a function to deliver newspapers, is now a function to  collect digital images of residences to be input into a database where the image bank is mined latter for information. For example, the presence of a boat may indicate a given homeowner may be interested in boating related data or the shabby exterior may represent an opportunity of a renovation contractor. The accumulation of detailed market data is valuable as product to the advertiser and represents value addition in the process. This value addition can occur because the collection of this data gains value when leveraged by several media delivery opportunities, as opposed to just a single traditional media venue; the collection of data becomes more efficient. The paper boy’s role may now be described as Public Representative and Data Collection person; their duties may, for some time to come in include delivering the newspaper or some printed materials. More likely however, they will be photographing the residence, offering instruction on how to use media delivery equipment, reading the gas and electric meter, doing a thermal scans of buildings, soliciting the completion of a questionnaire, delivering a package, offering neighbourhood security, informing the city of a leaking irrigation line  and informing the family that an elderly person needs attention. While an increasing number of duties are becoming automated, there is no substitution for a regular personal contact than can be cultivated via the right people on the ground and physical goods need to get delivered - house to house contact is still required, the package has to change - street level data that is current is a content source, content is where value starts - the "newspaper circulation" function is still required, the value of participation has to be intensified.
The natural extension to the "new paperboy" are other mechanisms for accessing community in a manner that channels content through a given media "outlet". There are many such opportunities to access community through interests, when one contemplates the variety of groups and ways to access them, small specialised markets gain resolution - there is money to be made by mining the "tail" - the "tail" is relatively untapped by the present media complex. 

There are herculean players competing in this space and while engrossed in their awareness of each other, the seeming crumbs they leave unattended may well feed the creation of the a disruptive business model that means there demise. If that occurs, they will have failed where many companies have, they will have failed to sow the seeds of their own disruption - and missed the opportunity. 
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