Advertising Week: Execs Forecast Industry Future
The provocative Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff said the two leading general news magazines are on life support--with perhaps only a decade left, partly because they have not succeeded in turning themselves into Internet powerhouses. "They've absolutely failed in every instance," he said.
In regard to YouTube, the equally provocative Mark Cuban, head of HDNet, said the site "subsidizes the video bandwidth of the Internet." In other words, it allows massive amounts of video sharing--for both individuals and corporations--but hardly takes in any revenues. Its owner, Google, has plugged its future monetization potential, but Cuban added when "Wall Street realizes" how expensive it is to operate compared to the returns, "it will blast Google."
Cuban offered some other thoughts on the Internet, while advancing a theory that the medium may have matured. Sitting two seats away from AOL Chairman-CEO Randy Falco, and asked what AOL should do to grow in the current climate, Cuban said it should manage for the short term and garner as much cash as possible. Falco nodded slightly.
Nigel Morris, the CEO of digital agency Isobar, shot back that the Internet has unknown growth ahead. Different countries across the globe are still watching penetration grow, he noted. As it does, users might come up with innovative uses. He also indicated social media is still in its early days and companies are becoming more savvy with e-business.
"The relationship [between user and medium] will become more social and more transactional, but it's almost impossible to predict how users will use it," Morris said.
Wolff, Cuban, Falco and Morris joined others at "The Future of Media Forum" to help kick off the annual week of industry panels and other events. The event was sponsored by MediaPost.
Not surprisingly, when asked whether newspapers have a future, Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black, a former USA Today executive, said "it's a very challenged business." Partly, she said, it's hampered by brick-and-mortar operations, such as printing presses, as well as union obligations, which Internet publishers don't face. Black, however, said USA Today appears to be thriving--and if papers can adapt in the digital world, they may yet have a robust future.
Black noted, however, that the dynamic is different for magazines--where, for example, a Cosmopolitan continues to perform well in overseas markets as well as domestically. While Hearst magazines' companion Web operations are growing, there is not the same sense of urgency there. She said she does not anticipate that their revenues will even approach those from the print products in her lifetime.
Nielsen Media Chairman Susan Whiting said that newspapers may be experiencing trouble in the U.S., but are growing in certain overseas markets at a strong clip. Last week, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who owns a slew of newspapers in the U.K. and Australia, also indicated that was the case.
For years, industry executives have speculated on whether established old-media brands--say a CNN--will eventually dominate traffic on the Web, due to their high brand recognition. But with the rise of Facebook and the unceasing news cycle, the question takes on a new dynamic.
By and large, the panelists suggested that publishers that have a trusted relationship with consumers will continue to carry the day by aggregating traffic allowing them to sell space to advertisers at a premium.
"Brands will stand out because information is non-stop, and now we need context," Morris said.
"New brands are created every single day and need to be trusted," Falco said.
Falco also said the primacy of blue-chip brands will help large media companies prosper in the next frontier: monetizing video on mobile devices.