Commentary

Will Print's Fate Repeat Itself In Television?

magazine coffeeInstant coffee didn't kill the selling of regular coffee; no argument here. But if that is the idea of an appropriate analogy for the print industry to buffer itself against reality, then "loss of audience" is a distant second worry to "insanity" for the magazine publishers who paid for that ad.

Lets face it, print vs. internet isn't analogous to coffee vs. instant coffee, but rather:

- analog images vs. digital images, or
- Las Vegas vs. online gambling.

In the former example, I would ask the print industry to consider how much Kodak  invested in analog imaging last year in favor of digital (the answer rhymes with hero and looks like a donut).

In the latter example, we submit evidence of Las Vegas' decline (sure, you can also blame Atlantic City popping up on the East Coast and siphoning away a percentage of visitors, for sure, as well as the recession more recently, without a doubt).   But, the recession did more to accelerate print's demise than Vegas' hangover.  The point we're trying to make was best  articulated by Warren Buffett: "If Mr Guttenberg had come up with the internet instead of movable type back in the late 15th century and for 400 years we had used the internet for news and all types of entertainment and all kinds of everything else and I came along one day and said I have got this wonderful idea we are going to chop down some trees up in Canada and ship them to a paper mill which will cost us a fortune to run through and deliver newsprint and then we'll ship that down to some newspaper and we'll have a whole bunch of people staying up all night writing up things and then we'll send a bunch of kids out the next day all over town delivering this thing and we are going to really wipe out the internet with this... it ain't going to happen."

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Not all doom and gloom (depending on who you ask)

Indeed, it's not all bad news: a recent study suggests no negative correction between the circulation of a print publication and its corresponding website's traffic.  Indeed, the web's main disruptive effects are targeting and tracking.  These are the two things that print "guesses more on" than the web does and will ultimately prove the undoing of both (it could be argued, but save that for another article), but when all is said and done, it's certainly true that what the web does is help good content and hurt bad content.  That is what traditional media companies (TMCs) should be stressing.

Will television repeat print's history?

This begs the question: Will we see a similar relationship between television programming and online video?  The truth is, the content found in print is largely found online (be it the exact duplicate or a "utilitarian equivalent").  With television and theatrical programming, that is not always the case -- for two reasons.  The first has to do with the fact that textual content has had a head start of a decade online; the second is the technical obstacle in both publishing and pirating video content (relative to both text and audio).

As such, TMCs need to determine if they want to aggressively publish their offline programming and assets online.  If they do, they run the risk of not being able to retain audiences offline, where content has historically charged a premium.

Rupert Murdoch  suggests that doing away with the release window between theatrical and home release is foolish.  Mind you, as the leading paywall hawk, he takes it one step further... The problem right now is that consumers don't want to pay for anything online and advertisers don't want to pay as much as they do offline.  The problem is the day will come when that will change because tracking and targeting will garner a premium for the Internet. 

Is it time to wake up and smell the coffee?

However, by not publishing anything online while audiences continue to flock to the web, then TMCs risk  losing their future audiences as viewers re-engineer themselves to watch something else altogether.

I like to remind people that content isn't a zero sum game, and it's quite true, but with increasing entertainment and informational options, there is a limited number of things that a viewer can physically consume... So invariably, TMCs that continue to treat platforms differently will end up accelerating the inevitable.

4 comments about "Will Print's Fate Repeat Itself In Television?".
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  1. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., October 18, 2010 at 5:23 p.m.

    Having seen both sides of this coin (Broadcast, Cable and Online as well as extensive time in the Newspaper space) - I can answer this question easily: Yes. The facts are in: most folks working for big media companies would rather chew their leg out of a bear trap than go to a staff meeting and suggest that the overall course of their company is incorrect and will lead to it's emminent demise. In fact, the only reason you can freely write this kind of article is because you're CEO of an online media company. If you worked for BigMedia, Inc. you'd be writing an article entitied "The Internet - Flash In The Pan While We Bravely Stay The Course" - not because you're a wimp or a bad writer - it's because you'd want to keep your JOB. People who suggest their big company is on the wrong course get fired (see: "team player"). The newspaper execs who are "guilty by silence" are legion (or maybe they hung on by their fingernails until they retired.) Doesn't matter - great, earth shaking, game changing ideas come from small companies willing to take risks - that's what I'm taking a break from while I write this. Back to creating the future.

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 18, 2010 at 6:25 p.m.

    That *is* a dumb ad. The headline should read: Will free content kill magazines? Would free coffee severely damage the coffee-for-a-price business?

    I don't doubt the print biz is "still" doing well. But for how long? This is a classic example of a bomb with a very long fuse. Just because it'll take a while to explode does not refute the eventual damage.

  3. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan from watchmojo.com, October 18, 2010 at 6:26 p.m.

    hey Jonathan, you're right. It's like one traditional media exec once told me: "between you and me, we all see the writing on the wall, but that's not my problem, that is my successor's problem. by the time he will have to deal with it, I'll be playing golf... or dead."

    thing is, the 2008 recession moved up that timeline.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 19, 2010 at 7:44 p.m.

    OMG, Jonathan, I agree. It is a CYA from the top organization. Lived it, but not from the top.

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