The Consumer (Truly) Empowered

My first job out of graduate school was at a broadcast network where, in the late '70s, we used to joke that owning a broadcasting license was like a license to print money because it was so easily profitable. Good times. When cable came into the picture in the '80s, there was initial discomfit but no real cause for alarm. And soon, many broadcasters either bought or launched their own cable networks so the television hierarchy remained intact. Viewers craving home entertainment were still captive to the television delivery box as we always knew it. Yes, customers were paying more for television, but it expanded the choices available and was, for many, worth the cost. Thus began the slippery slope for media companies.

Fast-forward to the 21st century as we come face to face with the end of the television network model as we know it. We always like to give lip service to the viewer. "The viewer chooses," we like to say. But it is never as true as today -- and many major media companies, from magazines to newspapers to radio to television, are at a loss as to how to fully monetize. Not only can viewers choose, they rule.

There are many factors placing stress on the current model, such as the explosion of viewing sources and devices (many of which interrelate to each other); faster connectivity so higher quality video can be delivered almost anywhere; burgeoning consumer choice and flexibility at a lower cost point; creation of new content on the consumer side in addition to the professional side; as well as a plethora of new and finely divined data sources that challenge Nielsen's measurement currency.

About five years ago I sat across from a senior executive of a network group and told him that we needed to bulk up our Web sites, negotiate for full program rights and create unique original content for the Web, because within the next three to five years viewers would be watching television on their computer. He said it wouldn't happen because the industry could not monetize it. "Websites are just for marketing and branding the network," he said. But now it doesn't matter what we can or can't monetize. The consumer is driving this change, not the media companies.

There are too many short-term thinkers in the industry. How else to explain the crash and burn of so many once great media properties? As long as we reward short term thinking in place of long term strategies we will always be at the mercy of outside influences that reshape our industry beyond our control.

And yet, I see potential opportunities which are not short-term or quick fixes.

  • Radio and print could arguably have the most to gain from the Internet revolution. They can, for the first time, break out of their historical media forms. A radio or magazine Web site can stream video, for example. And, no longer limited to the strength of its signal, a radio station site can reach a listener anywhere and everywhere, programming as many genres as there are tastes.

  • For all media forms there is global advertising potential. I viewed Susan Boyle's video on ITV's "Britain's Got Talent" Web site, which was skinned with a Domino's ad. There are many global brands. So why aren't more American media companies reaching out to global advertisers ... or creating new global advertisers? If I can buy British Telecom stock on the Internet, why wouldn't BT advertise to me on CNBC, CNN or Fox News outlets?

  • New ways of using media require new metrics and measurements. There are more and more data sources, collected in real time and offering highly granular data points for valuable insights and trends. Let's finally move from age and gender posting and create more up-to-date measurement systems that reflect a 360-degree media buy... or should we say, a 720-degree buy, taking into account the multitasking and interactivity of platforms?

    The future of media is filled with opportunity if we are prescient enough to take advantage of it, and cooperative enough to reach some consensus on certain issues such as measurement. Mitch Oscar of MPG has formed a committee on the latter and there are many strategic researchers at media companies who can contribute to the former, should senior management decide to listen.

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    10 comments about "The Consumer (Truly) Empowered ".
    1. Kevin Mirek , April 28, 2009 at 5:43 p.m.

      Thanks for the history lesson ... a few of us were there you know. Look, without TV's content there would be no viewing on the internet, as the internet creates nothing but home made jacka$s and other junk ... certainly nothing close to the quality of CSI, The Unit, or NCIS. And you only have that if you want to wait three days for the download to a jerky, pixelated screen presentation. TV viewing exceeds internet usage by a huge margin. If TV stations ever had the "cojones" to deny the use of their product anywhere else and to litigate those pirates who rip content to stuff their own crummy websites, you would have no position whatever. The TV stations are the dumb ones who are under the impression that distribution on the web or mobile helps them. That's idiotic. They are signing their oun suicide pacts.

    2. Jim Courtright from Big Thinking By The Hour , April 28, 2009 at 5:59 p.m.

      We'd love to be on the committee Mitch is starting, because we think no one has come close to measuring the value of an active visitor to a brand website vs a passive viewer of that brand's commercial on broadcast TV.

      In our upcoming book "Become Your own Broadcaster", we put forth the premise that in the future, brands will compete for exclusive rights to 'broadcast' content from their websites, or even pay to create it themselves. That's because we believe the CPMs of a person engaged at a website will be shown to be to be many times the multiple of a person viewing an ad, and therefore justify the higher cost.

      Jim Courtright
      Big Thinking By The Hour, Inc.
      jc@bigthinkingbythehour.com

    3. Trevor Fellows from Bloomberg , April 28, 2009 at 6:12 p.m.

      'Print' have the most to gain from the internet? That's a radical thought and counter to coventional wisdom -could you expound on that please?

    4. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , April 29, 2009 at 8:49 a.m.

      Hi Kevin,
      If you were there you might remember how the broadcast networks would say that, among other things, cable networks programmed lower quality shows and it was a big deal when a broadcast network sold a series to cable for re-broadcast.
      I agree with your basic argument that if TV stations withheld content on online, it would help to stem the tide in the short term. But many networks do not own 100% of the rights and those that do may find value in posting series online anyway.
      I suggest that the industry focus on proper monetization.

    5. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , April 29, 2009 at 8:51 a.m.

      Hi Jim,
      Mitch writes for TV Board too and can be reached through his posts. I look forward to reading your book.

    6. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , April 29, 2009 at 8:56 a.m.

      Hi Trevor,
      Print has the most to gain from the internet and has the most to lose, in my opinion, by not embracing online. With the ability to receive daily newspapers online, the satisfaction of reading a paper copy of a print publication will soon phase out with the older demographics. And with kindle, even those who prefer to read print the old fashioned way, will find that they can do so, albiet electronically. So the very way their media is consumed is evolving faster than other media and they can capture the new habits of the consumer earlier.

    7. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston , April 29, 2009 at 10:04 a.m.

      It appears to me that the important variable is "urgency" and not enough attention is paid to conforming content to the motivation to watch right now. If it can be watched later (i.e., low urgency), then the opportunity to monetize is lowered. For example, if I have a choice of watching Jay Leno or a scripted drama, I might feel more urgency to get topical humor (and see the commercials in the show) than I would to watch CSI: Miami (which I can Tivo and then FF the commercials).

    8. Martin Russ from Real Time Content , April 29, 2009 at 10:44 a.m.

      My take on history is that each new form of media does not replace previous forms, but it does change them. Radio did not replace newspapers (newspapers moved more to analysis, background and detailed comment). TV did not replace radio (radio evolved into niches where pictures were not essential). The Internet will not replace TV. Instead TV will change based on what online video cannot do. Quality, length, and broadcasting are three of the areas where this might happen. But in terms of accessibility, flexibility, and availibility, then online video has advantages, and media with an advantage becomes popular. Online video is small compared to TV now, but cars used to be rare before Henry Ford and his contemporaries got busy...

    9. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , April 29, 2009 at 5:09 p.m.

      Hi Douglas,
      That could be. I would be interested in seeing a research study on that aspect of content measurement.

    10. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , April 29, 2009 at 5:10 p.m.

      Hi Martin,
      I agree with you.