With consumers watching more television content on cable and Internet-connected devices, media conglomerates have the financial impetus to reinvent their malfunctioning broadcast network models before ad revenues migrate to other platforms. The pending upfront could signal an about-face by advertisers.
The latest slash and burn forecasts by some Wall Street analysts for even the biggest media companies--in anticipation of lower earnings and a dearth of growth catalysts--are a prelude to the pain to come. Digital products and services aren't generating new revs fast enough to offset losses in traditional areas that are especially strained in a recessionary economy. Nowhere is this problematic schism more apparent than at CBS and News Corp., despite their contrasting size and composition.
When General Electric sneezed on Friday, everyone else caught pneumonia. The blue-chip bellwether that hasn't missed quarterly estimates or lowered its annual forecast midstream in more than a decade gave corporate America a jolt by doing both. First-quarter earnings reports, as well as all of 2008, will be fraught with struggling financial scenarios and earnings. Media is among the sectors that will be clobbered badly, given its dependence on advertising and its discretionary consumer spending.
The fracas Yahoo created for itself this week is a reminder of the critical alliances major Internet players --no less than Microsoft, AOL and MySpace--must make for their interactive fortunes in a digital world dominated by Google.
Contrary to popular belief, e-commerce and online advertising will not magically achieve maximum growth during a protracted recession without a swift attitude adjustment by marketers. They must become masters of social networking, search and engagement --with a little help from the gatekeepers of the Internet's digital marketing mechanics.
CBS' financial problems reach beyond what to do about its money-losing news division. Recessionary strains on its core ad revenues will push the pure-play media company to further reduce costs and risks, dramatically alter its business models, and expand into cable and films. CBS needs to move boldly as if its life depended on it. Because it does.
Microsoft's hostile takeover of Yahoo has the potential to be the next decade's equivalent of the Time Warner-AOL merger. It is based on similarly formidable assumptions and issues, such as integrating disparate corporate cultures and monetizing an ad-supported search platform. During the 18-plus months it likely will take the embattled Yahoo and Microsoft to work through their differences, Google's Internet ad dominance and the troubled economy will continue taking their toll on both companies.
Heading into a perfect storm of declining metrics, the broadcasters' upfront pitch sounds like they are screaming into the wind. The continuing slide in ratings is exacerbated by a dearth of original programming caused by the writers' strike. The resulting increase in advertiser makegoods has tightened the scatter market, fueling advertisers' continued shift to more cost-effective cable buys. As TV dollars shift to the Net, a recession will prompt an overall decline in ad spending through 2009.
Technology is suffering many of the same economic pangs as other businesses: a hit on company values and stock prices, a decline in money flow, and waffling consumer demand. As the innovation engine driving the digital interactive revolution continues, however, there are the mounting concerns that many cost-hounded companies will slow their support for efforts that will take us to the next level.
A slowdown in private-equity investment and consumer spending will force Hollywood's biggest film studios to rethink their business models, even in an era of exploding digital content distribution options. The question is: how far and how fast will film studios change to avert a free fall into marginal or no growth through the decade's end? That would prompt headcount reduction and other severe cutbacks now sweeping through the television and publishing sectors.