Google and the broadcast networks finally have a mutually annoying problem over which they can commiserate: declining use numbers. While the spin is different in their respective corners of the changing media universe, the bottom-line issues are the same. Verifying and stemming the losses is not the same as profitably wrestling with the turning tide.
Obsessing over Time Warner's fate and fortune is a time-honored pursuit that usually ends with the same discouraging realization. Even after adding AOL, subtracting cable, tweaking filmed entertainment and contemplating an overall breakup, the $50 billion behemoth is a product of reactionary rather than visionary leadership-and is, at its core, a content company.
Broadcasters have to be wondering whether the threatened collapse of Clear Channel Communications' sale is unique to a weakened radio market, or if it portends valuation and funding problems for some local television stations vexed by digital conversion and advertising recession uncertainties.
The one-two punch of an economic recession and Google steamrolling Madison Avenue is a double dare to the broadcast networks to adjust their advertising practices and pricing now--or suffer imminent bottom-line consequences.
General Electric Chairman Jeff Immelt emphatically denies plans to sell NBC Universal, pointing to cable network and international growth as offsets to its fourth-place broadcast TV network and its increasing vulnerability during the ad recession. But 2009 could tell another tale.
The $19.6 billion raised by the federal government's auction of the analog spectrum will barely ease the $263 billion national deficit. But it will make Verizon, AT&T and Google (by default) bigger power brokers in an exploding wireless digital marketplace. For the winning bidders, the spectrum is a rare opportunity to change the complexion of the wireless mobile scheme by directly managing applications and platforms, some of which don't yet exist.
It has become a familiar predicament for digital media innovators: how to leverage and grow new markets. So it is not surprising that Apple is seeking to boost the sale of iPods and iTunes content downloads by altering its pricing arrangements. Continuing to charge consumers, by any other name, could be a long-term mistake. Eventually, Apple will learn -- just as AOL did -- that walled gardens and mobile interactive consumers don't mix.
One thing became clear this week: Intelligent bullies with position and financial resources can opportunistically seize on bad news paralysis. Their objective--to leverage waning assets or those difficult to value in a chaotic environment--is a template for forced growth. It will become a hallmark of this year's restructuring deals. Think Microsoft, Liberty Media and, yes, JP Morgan.
There is no shortage of online content and advertising, although it's a long way from mastering the Holy Grail of applications: video, search and management. The big questions is: how do companies turn special-interest content into a money maker?
It's only a matter of time before the fallout from the Bear Stearns bailout, intensifying finanical market turmoil, and the tightening economic squeeze catch up with all companies. Media-related players--from communications and entertainment to the Internet to advertisers--will see the impact in advertising revenues, consumer spending and the availability of funding for deals and expansion in the second half of the year. Even well-heeled media players with limited ad exposure will feel the pain.