The beleaguered big three automakers (GM, Chrysler and Ford) lead the largest single domestic ad category, which accounts for 12% of all ad spend, and more specifically, 28% of local television station ads. At least an estimated $3 billion decline in traditional ad spending by automotives, as well as a permanent realignment of it and other major ad categories, will undercut media companies' core revenues and valuations.
Any federal bailout of the big three automakers will surely require a major restructuring, if not a purge of killer legacy costs similar to those plaguing traditional media and other old-line businesses. Such systematic changes, while complex and painful, must occur in to restore sustainable growth. But that is only part of the fix.
AIG has become the poster child for convoluted financial deals and underlying intangibles that seem to be part of every corporate mix these days. Overall debt, stock-triggered loan covenants and other financial obligations make it difficult to value assets that must be sold in order to make ends meet. The federal government Monday expanded AIG's bailout to about $168 billion over a longer five-year time frame, allowing it to get fair value for a distressed sale of good assets to offset its outstanding financial obligations and allow taxpayers to recoup their funds.
The government's cash infusions for financial institutions and AIG have yet to noticeably trickle down to the companies and individuals that need lending relief. However, we're beginning to see how throwing good money after bad at firms that have not constructively restructured could make the recessionary hole we're in that much deeper.
Whether AIG and GM can create templates for digging out of a prolonged recession with new business models and structures remains to be seen. Such financial failures are having a cascading effect on industries such as media, which are forced to share the risk without the aid of a bailout. Media companies will likely see their ad revenues and valuations fall even lower in 2009, especially if their structure and cost are not aligned for the digital age.
Some media companies are already watching their valuations evaporate into a merciless market decline, cash burn and revenue losses. The New York Times Co. is one of a growing number of coveted media concerns with a negative worth. In some ways, its situation is not that different from GM; it owes more money than it is generating, its stock is devalued, its asset-to-liabilities ratio is a disaster, and the declining value of its assets makes it difficult to raise more cash. It can't cut costs or shift more of its branded value online fast enough.
So, companies everywhere on the media spectrum must seize control of their own destinies by moving proactively. Here are five ways to create your own safety net:
Make a pragmatic bare-bones plan for 2009 and 2010
Advertising is a variable cost that will be cut by many makers of goods and services, and pricing will follow. Manage next year's risk by monetizing existing resources on digital platforms and devices. With traditional sources of revenue declining and endangered, there is less risk to creating new business paradigms.
Reset values of all assets and services
Restructure financial obligations when possible. Shore up the value of core assets by enhancing their reach online and other interactive platforms where consumer connections can be accurately measured. Reassess the importance of what you have by the value of the social networks and niche consumer groups. Social networks are the new subscribers whose fees are the "commerce" and paid content they are willing to front.
Continue shifting resources and revenues
Consumers will pay for products and services that have relevant, unique value propositions, even in tough times. Use inexpensive and flexible viral tools to relate differently with target consumers. Be prepared to redefine your value proposition for advertisers and consumers. Once Canoe Ventures pursues its plans to interconnect advertisers and their target consumers, and create new premium-priced functions and applications, the era of interactive marketing will take wing. It is the single most important new source of revenue.
Deal with legacy, not just surface expenses
Some media companies will increasingly sell or fold old-line operations, such as TV and radio stations and newspapers. Just as newspapers dwindled to one or two per market, there eventually will be fewer television stations. Maybe the best way for a print or TV company to remain in the local news business is to create a completely virtual business model and operations, and partner with cable, online and other distribution allies.
Think and move outside the box
Moving products and services online and onto digital platforms and devices can't happen soon enough. The revenues may not completely offset traditional losses, but it's a start. Now that the "white space" fight has been lost to Federal Communications Commission approval, broadcasters would be wise to partner with Google, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and other tech players that will mine the unused channel spectrum for new wireless services. After all, broadcasters will be digicasters after February's mandatory conversion, and much of their television and news content already has been transferred to competing streaming online outlets.