Commentary

The Defining Trait of Tradition

The defining trait of traditional media has always been the fact that some "editor" somewhere put together various elements of content and served it all up as one package. You can just buy the comic pages, you also have to buy the local business news. You can't see Morley Safer without having to suffer Andy Rooney. Songs on the radio come sprinkled between contest promotions and idiotic banter.

Some of us more naïve Internet guys thought interactive media might change all of this - we were confident enough that we spent many long nights arguing over whether or not it is a good or a bad thing that people have to broaden their content intake beyond what they really want. I can remember back in 1993 arguing with Jay Heinrichs, a magazine editor, about whether or not we need any editors. He maintained that people like him were absolutely essential because people weren't going to wade through all the dreck to get to the interesting articles. But Jay hadn't yet met Google.

We are now seeing true instances of the breaking down of this "forced amalgam" of content consumable only in the portions and combinations made available by editors.

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Google's new news service strips the most interesting stories from thousands of sources, using a popularity algorithm, much like its quite successful search directory listings. This is a perfect example of people getting news outside of the context that the publication editors anticipated.

Even more interesting is Apple Computer's new Music Store service, allowing people to buy individual songs and eschewing the record album format that forced you to purchase the seven "B sides" along with the two or three hits you were seeking from your favorite singer.

This isn't merely a new convenience to viewers. These sorts of applications change the marketplace of media in two ways. First, it makes content creation a very different business. Right now B sides are pumped out as filler for albums, where in the new model they really have no place. More effort can be spent taking risks on more innovative attempts at hits.

Secondly, it leaves fewer formulaic places in which to insert advertising messages. If you're watching a partial segment of 60 Minutes, thus safely avoiding the Andy Rooney segment, you're also not hanging around for the commercial pod that played between the two.

This means that advertisers may have to reach people based not on what publication they view, but rather what they are doing at the particular moment. This points less toward the run-of-site media buy and more toward the behavioral campaign that pops up for the user only when the message proves relevant or useful.

It's a start.

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