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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

MEDIA FIRMS INCREASINGLY CHARGED WITH COPYRIGHT VIOLATIONS

First it was record companies suing Napster and peer-to-peer file sharers, and then it was media companies such as Viacom, Universal Music Group, and Agence France Presse suiting Google, YouTube, and Facebook for distributing content whose rights they owned. Now GateHouse Media has filed suit against another newspaper firm, the New York Times Co., for publishing content from its websites and papers on Boston.com.

That media companies are suing each other is a sure sign of the maturation of online distribution and that money is starting to flow—albeit slowly and at levels far below that of traditional media, which still account for more than two-thirds of all consumer and advertiser expenditures

But the lawsuits really point out the weakness of revenue distribution for use of intellectual property online. In publishing, well-developed systems for trading rights and collecting payments exist. In radio, systems for tracking songs played and ensuring artists, composers, arrangers, and music publishers are compensated are in place and working well. The trading of rights for television broadcasts and mechanisms for payments to owners of the IPRs are well established.

However, effective systems are absent in online distribution and the industry needs to move rapidly to establish them. If the industry can not create such a system on their own, more money will go to lawyers and the rules and systems for online payments will ultimately be imposed by courts or legislators who tire of the governmental costs for solving disputes and enforcing the rights.

Organizations representing print and audio-visual media need to sit down with their major counterparts in online distribution to create a reasonable mechanism by which rights are traded and revenues shared, otherwise they risk imposition of a government imposed compulsory license scheme that will be less desirable to the industry.

Companies that continually argue there should be less government regulation of media operations can’t increasingly go to government to solve their disputes without expecting it to produce more regulation.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

THE CREDIT CRISIS, VOLATILE MARKETS, RECESSION AND MEDIA

The churning flood of economic developments and the desperate measures of governments to lay financial sandbags to control the torrent present not one, but three calamities for media managers. Those that escape one may well be swept away by another.

Most media can survive the collapse of credit markets because media firms have high cash flows are typically require less short term credit than manufacturing and retail firms. Because most can acquire their most important resources without accessing credit lines or issuing commercial paper, banks struggling to keep their heads above water are not a major short-term concern. However, those media firms with large debts due in the short-term that were hoping to refinance face significant hurdles. Some will be rapidly shedding media properties in order to stay afloat.

The more immediate problem for some publicly owned firms is the financial damage caused by the dramatic drop in share prices following the credit market collapse. Because a number of companies use debt financing linked to the value of their shares, the drop in prices makes their debt more risky and thus triggers automatic increases in interest rates and debt payments. This puts even more financial pressure on the firms and is sweeping them along with the flood.

Media firms that escaped the rising financial damage of the first two problems are nonetheless being sucked into the swirling waters of a recession. Because manufacturers are cutting production and laying off workers and because credit is tightening and making it harder for consumers to buy, advertising expenditures are eroding rapidly. Further, consumer spending and confidence are directly related to sales of media products so one can expect declines in sales of media hardware, recordings, books, and other products as well as consumers concentrate their expenditures on paying mortgages and other debt.

At the moment there is no means to effectively project how deep the recession will be, but whatever the depth it will be difficult for media. In the case of advertising, a 1 percent decline in GDP produces about a 3 to 5 percent decline in advertising. So a 3 percent decline could produce a 15 percent decline in income for many media firms. Print media tend to be most affected by recessions and their declines tend to be 3 to 4 times deeper than television because of differences in the types of advertising they carry.

Media companies that are financially strong will weather the financial storm, but those whose managers leveraged their companies to make acquisitions, those whose owners recently purchased the firms primarily using debt financing, and those that have been poorly managed will be struggling to survive. The current financial storm is a classic example for why conservative financial management of a media firm debt is crucial.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

ASK DEEPER QUESTIONS ABOUT FINANCIAL CONDITIONS

Many observers tend to conceive any changes in media businesses as trends that are irreversible or to combine them with other changes to make sweeping generalizations about industry conditions. The results are often wrong and distract observers from asking deeper more appropriate questions about longer-term developments and how media companies use the resources they have.

To understand changes one needs to consider developments separately to determine their origin and expected duration. This allows one to determine what are the result of external trends and what are the result of company choices. Only then can one begin combining them with other observations.

Thus, one needs to consider whether the ratings increase for AMC is due to people spending more watching cable channels or an effect of the AMC's investments in quality programming and the popularity of programs such as Mad Men? If it is the former, one can enjoy benefits with little effort or extra investment; if it is the latter, the company will want to consider additional investments in other programming.

Is the decline in broadcast television advertising in the first half of 2008 a harbinger of a advertisers moving expenditures out of broadcasting or a reflection of the current economy and the condition of the automobile industry and its declining ad budget? If it is the first, long-term trouble is brewing and companies will need to give significant thought to their business models and cost structures. If it is the latter, the financial difficulties caused by the reduction may be short- to mid-term and will merely have to be endured until conditions improve.

Is the decline the in national newspaper advertising the result of reduced spending by advertisers or because of changes in the number of national advertisers and the ways they allocate their budgets. The latter requires rethinking income potential and expenditures for selling national advertising, whereas the former will create less longer-term trauma.

Many observers also seem to think that budgets cuts are necessarily bad and unusual for companies, but they are normal occurrences because of the cyclical nature of advertising expenditures. When ad dollars are flowing vigorously, media companies expand their budgets; when that flow lessens, companies reduce their budgets.

What is important about budget cuts is that they be instituted in strategic way to leave the core capabilities of the firm intact so the firm can benefit when conditions change and not miss critical time and financial benefits by having to rebuild those capabilities when better times occur.

It is alo important that budget cuts not be made equally and across the board, but that they be made by clearly analyzing the necessity of existing cost structures and operations. The challenge for many traditional media is that they are labor intensive and labor costs often are the one of the leading portions of their expenses. If one must cut labor, it should be done considering which employees can easily be replaced later, whether all operations, products, and services need to be maintained, and whether outsourcing some functions is an option.

Many companies also forget to look at the top as well as the bottom of their operations when cost cutting occurs. Today, for example, many newspaper companies need to be asking whether expensive corporate offices, private jets, and high corporate salaries and perks are warranted and necessary or if they should cut those corporate expenditures and the management fees they lay on local newspapers to pay for them.

In times of change, one needs clear vision of what is happening to an industry and company and to ask broader questions than are typically asked in firms and by industry observers. Those who do so benefit; those who don't pay a price.

Friday, August 1, 2008

DISSAPEARANCE OF A FINANCIALLY GOLDEN NEWSPAPER PERIOD

Voices in and around the newspaper industry would have us believe the industry is falling apart and taking its last gaps. Investors are fleeing newspaper companies, publishers are decrying the lack of newspaper advertising growth, debt challenges are plaguing many companies, and there are layoffs and buyouts everywhere.

If one rationally looks at the industry, however, one sees that it is fundamentally sound, but that a unique, financially golden period in its history is ending. It is that change which is creating the bulk of the turmoil in the industry, but the biggest problem is that those working in the industry have short memories about the newspaper business and don't remember it any other way.

The generation leading newspapers and newspaper companies today has only experienced a period in which extraordinary growth of advertising increased newspaper revenue across the nation. That growth, combined with the development of local monopolies, created a period that enriched papers highly. This, of course, created great interest in investors and produced capital that allowed public companies to grow and acquire papers, driving up newspaper prices and the value of newspaper assets.

Today, the conditions that drove the growth of the past 3 decades are ending, wealth is being stripped from the industry, investors are losing interest, and publishers are struggling with negative and low growth.

Things are terrible, right? They are worse than every before, aren’t they?

Those views are only true if one takes a limited historical perspective and conceives the industry as a way to riches, something few newspaper owners did in generations past. With the exception of a few major cities, one could not get rich being a newspaper owner. Publishers nationwide could make a living in newspaper, but much of their reward came from being socially influential in the community. Before the extraordinary profitability of the last quarter of the 20th century, newspapers were relatively unprofitable and breaking even was the primary financial goal of most publishers.

Contemporary developments are taking us back toward that situation, but even with the u-turn in the business, we need to recognize that newspaper revenue today is better than it was in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In fact, adjusted for inflation, newspapers in 2007 had two and a half times the advertising income that they had in 1950. In terms of employment, there are still twenty percent more journalists working in newspapers than in the highly profitable years that fueled the growth of corporate newspapering.

Those working in the newspaper industry need to be realistic and understand what the effects of contemporary changes mean. They don’t mean disaster, but they mean changes in the business of newspapers, the way the industry has operated for the past three decades, and how they need to perceive the industry.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE GROWING OWNERSHIP OF PRIVATE EQUITY IN MEDIA

The privatization of Clear Channel Communications ends a 2-year effort to buyout the leading radio and outdoor advertising firm. The $17.9 billion buyout by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners allows the new owners the opportunity to pursue strategies with less influence from unpredictable investors pursuing short-term interests. The sale comes amid heavy competition in terrestrial and satellite radio, but provides the new owners more flexibility in deciding how to best operate the 900 radio stations, radio programming services, and subsidy that owns one million outdoor ad locations.

The sale is just one more in a growing trend for private equity purchases of media firms. Their interest in media companies stems from the fact that the market value of many does not reflect the underlying cash flows and asset values or the mid- to long-term prospects of the firms.

The valuation challenge of media occurs in good part because advertising expenditures are not evenly distributed throughout the year and because advertising revenue is significantly affected by fluctuations in the economy. These variations create significant disquiet among stock market investors because they make revenue, returns, and dividends less predictable in the short term.

These realities—combined with unproven beliefs of many investors that new media are displacing all mature media and making growth in their businesses impossible—reduce the valuation of media stocks and make media firms attractive to private equity firms that think about the businesses in terms other than quarterly performance.

Monday, July 21, 2008

COMCAST FORGETS THE BUSINESS IT IS IN

Sometimes companies forget what businesses they are in and Comcast seems to be the latest media and communication company to do so.

The problem evidenced in the dispute between the FCC and Comcast over its traffic management policies blocking or slowing BitTorret and other files in violation of FCC network neutrality rules requiring open access. Without addressing whether regulators or Comcast are right in the dispute, it is clear from the company’s response that it has lost sight of it core business.

Comcast argues it was engaging in reasonable business practices by limiting the flow of BitTorrent files (often used to download large video, audio, and text files) because they push up the flow of traffic and slow the system. In Comcast’s view, the system and its integrity are its raison d’etre and represent the business it is in. It is easy to understand why the company and its executives might think so.

Comcast spends the majority of its effort and personnel creating and maintaining its system and infrastructure, tackling issues of system capacity and capabilities, and working to ensure system reliability and speed. It provides video, Internet, and voice services via 575,000 miles of wires serving 15 million cable subscribers, 13 million Internet users, and 4 million digital home providers. In the last three years Comcast has spent $13.6 billion in capital expenditures on the system.

Unfortunately, the extraordinary network it operates and maintains—the lines, switches, head-ins, Internet and telephone connections—are not the business of Comcast, they are just the requirements for conducting the business. Its real business is providing customers access to the video, audio, text, and voice communications they desire.

Its central purpose is serving the needs of the end users, including those who want to acquire capacity-eating BitTorrent files. It is the purpose that its executives seem to have forgotten when they decided their network management practices were more important than the wishes and desires of their customers. Their absent mindedness is not completely surprising, however, because the company has long had one of the poorest records of customer service among media firms. Lots of problems develop rapidly if you think it would be a good business if you just didn't have to deal with bothersome customers.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

THE FAILING STRATEGIES FOR DRAMA ON NETWORK TELEVISION

The announcement of the finalists for the 2008 Emmy drama nominations shows how weak major television networks have become and the feeble program strategies they are now employing. AMC’s “Mad Men” and FX’s “Damages” became the first series ever produced by basic tier cable channels to become finalists for best series and they were joined in the 6 nominee list by Showtime for “Dexter”.

The results were even worse for networks in the major acting categories: Only 1 of the five Emmy nominees for lead actor and 2 of the five for lead actress went to network programs.

Overall, 24 cable network programs received nominations and 7 cable channels received 10 or more nominations. HBO received 85 nominations—beating out all the broadcast networks, Showtime received 20 nominations, and AMC received 20 nominations.

Drama is a bellwether of the health of television programming and networks continue to fair poorly. It is a particularly important genre, socially and culturally, because it allows explorations of beliefs, attitudes, norms, aspirations, and fears better than other program types. However, success is unpredictable and good drama is expensive to produce. Historically it was the province of the well funded dominant networks, but that has now changed.

The decline of quality in network television programming is directly related to the increasing number of channels available in households. As the number of channels increases, the average number of viewers declines, producing declining advertising support, and thus reducing resources available for program investments. The responses of networks have been predictable. They offer more game shows and reality programs that are less expensive to produce, avoid productions that are edgy and innovative, and rerun programs as much as possible.

Network prime time filled with shows such as “I survived a Japanese Game Show”, “Wife Swap”, “Nashville Star,” and The Bachelorette” and the networks wonder why they have trouble capturing audiences and gaining financial resources. When they do provide drama it is all too often formulaic and a spin off from an already successful series. There are strong tendencies for network drama to have a criminal or legal practice oriented or take a prime time soap opera approach, such as “CSI”, “Law & Order”, “Desperate Housewives”, and “Grey’s Anatomy”.

The program challenge has been growing worse year after year since the development of cable television channels in the 1970s. I don’t want to be interpreted as saying the networks have produced no fine drama, but the amount has declined precipitously.

This raises the question of why cable channels are able to follow an opposite path, increasing their production of drama and gaining more acclaim for their work. The simple answer is money. Having additional sources of income other than advertising frees programs from the necessity of seeking audiences linked to interests of advertisers and from the content influence of advertisers. It allows producers, writers, and directors to employ greater creativity, to address controversial subjects, and to take the time to ensure quality in the production.

Subscriber-supported HBO has the longest and most distinguished record in producing original drama with highly rated and acclaimed series such as “The Sopranos”, “Angels in America”, “Six Feet Under”, “Deadwood”, “Band of Brothers”, and “Sex and the City”. HBO is premium channel financed by subscriptions from about one third of American households, a clear example that many viewers want and are willing to pay for innovative, quality programming.

In recent years there has also been significant growth of drama from cable channels receiving both subscriber and advertising revenue, thus giving us programming such as USA network’s “Monk” and TNT’s “The Closer”. Original television drama is now being produced by other channels, such as AMC, Lifetime, and Showtime, as well.

One of the side effects of the increased production of drama by cable channels is that they are now playing significant export roles and their programming is regularly appearing in prime time on national channels, especially public service channels, in Europe and elsewhere.

Network executives need to seriously reconsider their programming strategies, particularly where drama is concerned, or they risk become secondary channels in the years to come. Unless they find ways to develop and support quality drama, it will increasingly become the trophy programming of cable channels in the years to come.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

CHANGING FORMS AND FUNCTIONS OF NEWS MEDIA

Fundamental social and technological changes are altering the functions of news media for audiences and advertisers and significantly altering the situations of specific forms of news media.

Most of us recognize that form and function are linked together, with the form of objects influenced by their use, economics, and technology (Something architects and designers have recognized for more than a century). Contemporary technology has broken the connection between the traditional forms and functions of news providers and made it possible to serve the functions of legacy news organizations and news distribution in many different forms. This development is undermining the consumer and financial bases of long-established news media.

Because they have been in place for so many decades, it is easy to forget that established news media developed their forms within specific economic and technological environments. The form of newspapers and radio and television newscasts developed when new technologies allowed creations of mass audiences, distributed news to them at specific times, and supported the delivery of low priced and free news because advertisers of general consumer products paid to reach those audiences.

Today, the underlying elements of that business model, which was highly successful in the twentieth century, are decaying. Mass audiences are disappearing, technology is providing new ways to reach audiences, individuals are becoming active, integral participants in the communication process, and advertising are seeking more effective ways to reach potential customers.

These changes are significantly altering the functions previously played by metropolitan daily newspapers and network and local radio and television newscasts as primary creators and distributors of news and information. The dominance they once had has been replaced by ubiquitous distribution technologies that provide a continually updated stream of news through cable channels, Internet portals and news sites, social networking sites, mobile devices, and news screens on buildings and in public transportation.

It should be no surprise, then, that the form of legacy news provision is no longer as successful as it was in the past. Those who own and work for legacy organizations see the changes as cataclysmic, but the shifting of functions to more forms is natural and provides significant benefits to those who want news and information.

We have seen this type of displacement before, even within our lifetime. Life magazine, for example, played significant roles in conveying news and features on social life from the 1930s to the 1970s, but lost its functions with the arrival of new technology and changes in social life. As the foremost visual presenter of photojournalism, the magazine once garnered 13.5 million circulation, but changing media preferences for audiovisual materials on television news and magazine shows stripped Life of its audience and advertising.

Many functions of network television news, which grew rich in the 1960s and 1970s, were displaced in the 1970s and 1980s by local television newscasts that provided more hours of news and more opportunities for viewers to get international, national, and local news. That displacement was compounded by the development of 24-hour cable news channels.

Today, further displacement of the functions of network and local television news is taking place and the functions of metropolitan daily newspapers are being significantly affected. This does not the end of news provision, however. Although many journalists in the legacy media desperately assert that only the forms of news in the organizations that employ them can serve social needs and provide quality journalism, the reality is far different.

Reputable and well-trained journalists are now establishing new journalistic forms on the Internet, linking web and print operations, and syndicated materials produced by web-based news providers. There are more journalistic startups now than anyone can ever recall.

Although web-based news has historically be aggregated materials from traditional sources, these new enterprises—some commercial and some non-commercial—are increasingly providing original journalism. Some are concentration on serious investigative national and international reporting; some are providing hyper-local coverage; and some are providing coverage of specialized topics. These serve some functions previously provided by legacy media and some functions legacy media ignored.

The technologies are also allowing engaged citizens to create and distribute news and information on their own, supplementing material produced by professional journalists or providing material in its absence.

These are healthy developments for journalism and for those who want news and information. Although the form of provision is changing, the functions of gathering and conveying news and information and the functions of keeping people informed and engaged are continuing and being improved.

Friday, May 30, 2008

DRIVERS OF CHANGE IN THE MEDIA ENVIRONMENT

Five decisive trends are driving changes in the media environment and forcing media companies to change their thinking and operations: media abundance, audience fragmentation and polarization, product portfolio development, the eroding strength of media companies, and a overall power shift in the communications process.

Abundance is seen in the dramatic rise in media types and units of media. The growth of media supply is far exceeding the growth of consumption in both temporal and monetary terms. The average number of pages in newspapers tripled in the twentieth century; the number of over-the-air television channels quadrupled since 1960s--supplemented by an average of about fifty-six cable channels in the average home; there are four times as many magazines available as in 1970s; 1.5 million new web pages are created daily, and created and stored knowledge (as measured by information scientists) is growing at a rate of 30 percent a year. We used to think of competition among newspapers or competition among television channels, but this media abundance has created competition not only among media but also competition between media and other leisure time activities such as sports, concerts, and socializing at cafes and bars.

The abundance has created fragmentation and polarization of the audience because people are spreading their media use across more channels, books, magazines, and websites. This produces extremes of use and nonuse among available channels and titles. In television, for example, there is a tendency for individuals to focus most use on three or four channels. Increasing channel availability does not create an equal amount of increased use. For example, if twenty channels are received in a household, the average viewed is five. When fifty channels are received, the average rises to twelve, and if one hundred channels are received, the average viewed by all members of the household is only sixteen. Advertisers understand this development and have responded by spreading their expenditures and paying less for smaller audiences. The audience-use changes mean that competition is no longer institutionally and structurally defined but is being defined by the time and money audiences/consumers spend with media, and the competitive focus is now on the attention economy and the experience economy.

The difficulties faced by individual units of media have led media companies to create and operate portfolios of media products. This response occurs because declining average return per unit makes owning a single media product problematic. The portfolios are efforts to reduce risk and obtain economies of scale and scope. These portfolios can increase return if they involve efficient operations and joint cost savings.

Despite the growth of portfolios and large media companies, the strength of the companies is eroding. Today no basic media content companies are in the top one hundred companies in the United States or in the top five hundred worldwide. Moreover, the reach of media companies is declining, even though they have grown bigger. Each has less of the viewers’, readers’, and listeners’ attention than in the past, and their difficult strategic position concerns many investors. As a result, media companies are struggling with their major investors, and all major media companies fear they may become takeover targets.

Underscoring all of this is a fundamental power shift in communications. The media space was previously controlled by media companies; today, however, consumers are gaining control of what has now become a demand rather than supply market. And media consumers are not merely content to be passive receivers any longer, many are now participating in production through the variety of forms of interactive and user generated content. This shift is apparent in the financing of contemporary initiatives in cable and satellite, TV and radio, audio and video downloading, digital television, and mobile media, which is based on a consumer payment model. Today, for every dollar spent on media worldwide by advertisers, consumers spend three. In the U.S., that ratio is 1 to 7.

Media companies worldwide are struggling to understand and adjust to wide-ranging external and internal changes that are altering modes of production, rapidly increasing competition, eroding their traditional audience and advertiser bases, altering established market dominance patterns, and changing the potential of the firms. The need for media managers to perceive, understand, and adjust to the new conditions increases daily because such changes can lead to failure of both existing and new products and, ultimately, lead to the loss of value or collapse of firms.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

THE CAPITAL CRISIS IN THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY DEEPENS

Recent weeks have not been kind to newspaper company finances, with lost value and unhappy investors plaguing publicly traded firms.

The Journal Register Co. was delisted from New York Stock Exchange because it share price remained below $1, reducing its market capitalization about $12 million, less than one-fifth the capitalization required to be traded on the big board. The Sun-Times Media Group stock also continued trading below $1 and its market capitalization dropped to $61 million, drawing a delisting warming from the New York Stock Exchange.

Although those firms have hardly been notable as the best managed firms in recent years, their problems in inspiring investors are symptomatic of difficulties facing newspaper firms in the market.

Meanwhile, Moody’s Investors Service lowered the New York Times and McClatchy Co. debt ratings and lowered the Gatehouse Media even further in the junk category.

Other firms are also having problems with capital related issues. Rumors are rampant that the Sulzberger family is seeking new protective mechanisms or partners for the New York Times Co. following its continued battles with shareholders and dissident shareholders gaining seats on the company board. A similar ugly proxy battle is underway at Media General.

About a half dozen public firms have now hired advisors to determine their “strategic options,” the business euphemism for seeing if there is any hope of selling properties, restructuring, or getting out of the business.

All this is happening not because the newspaper industry is untenable—public companies return an average of 17 percent last year—but because most are carrying enormous debt and have no believable plans for future growth and development. As a result, investors are demanding cost cutting, debt reduction, strong returns, and high dividends so they can recoup their investments.

The trouble with this scenario is that it continues stripping newspaper companies of the resources they need to develop new initiatives and businesses should their management gain some vision, become entrepreneurial, and have some inspired ideas that might enthuse investors.

What newspaper companies badly need today are not mere managers, but company leaders with the strength, enthusiasm, and vision to rebuild their companies. If they don’t start soon, they will lose too many resources to be able to do it in the future.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

THE INTERNET, MOBILE MEDIA, AND YOUTH ARE NOT TO BLAME

Traditional media industries and companies are overwhelmed with an atmosphere of consternation and fear today.

Trade publications and industry association meetings are filled with news of diminished budgets, reorganizations, consolidations, and layoffs. People say traditonal media are declining and will soon disappear. Potential employees are wondering if there is a future for them in the industries and senior employees are hoping their jobs will last until they reach retirement. Everyone is pointing the finger,but most of the blame for killing traditional media is laid on the Internet, mobile media, and young people.

There is just one problem with their scenario. IT’S NOT TRUE. We have deluded ourselves into thinking that well established media are dying and that young people are uninterested in traditional text and audiovisual media.

Although new distributors of information and entertainment abound and video on demand and consumer-created content are increasing daily, consumers’ greatest time allocation and advertisers’ greatest expenditures remain with traditional media. Although young people have adopted newer media technologies more rapidly than other population groups, most of their media use still involves film, television, magazines, and non-traditional newspapers.

If the death knell for traditional media is not ringing, why do industry personnel keep hearing bells in their ears?

The reason is that significant changes are underway and most people don’t understand them. We have reached a era when the collective weight of expanded offerings of traditional media and the appearance of new types of media are ending the relatively undemanding operating conditions that existed due to lack of media choice and are removing the effortless profits that traditional commercial media enjoyed for a half century.

Suddenly there is competition. Suddenly there are financial losses. Suddenly there are company failures. Suddenly audiences are no longer satisfied with the “take content on our terms when we want to deliver it” approach that traditional media have offered. Only it wasn’t really sudden. Those factors have been growing incrementally for at least three decades. The problems were certainly compounded by the arrival of Internet and mobile content distribution, but they were not caused by them.

Let’s look at the case of the newspaper industry in the U.S. Readership problems have been evident for half a century. Although actual circulation rose continually throughout the twentieth century, reaching a height of 62.6 million in 1993, penetration has declined steadily at 1 to 2 percent each year since 1950. The pace has been steady despite the appearance of additional types of media. The expansion of network television didn’t increase the loss, the arrival of cable channels didn’t amplify the decline, and the arrival of the Internet didn’t boost the pace.

Today, the Internet is having an affect on advertising, but even that is not disastrous despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Total U.S. newspaper advertising was $46.6 billion in 1999 and $49.3 billion in 2006. In financial terms newspaper advertising is rising, but when accounting for inflation it has basically plateaued so one can not say the Internet is killing papers. If we look at classified where the biggest substitution exists, classified advertising in newspapers reached a height of $19.6 billion in 1999 and it was $16.9 billion in 2006. Clearly a decline occurred but it was offset by the fact that newspaper online advertising produced $2.6 billion in 2006. Overall, the business has stopped growing and investors are unhappy, but the industry isn't dying.

Certainly, the Internet is having many effects on established media. Research shows that print media business models have been least disrupted, unlike audiovisual media, but that print media work processes are changing most among media. However, Internet, mobile and other new form of distribution are providing all types of traditional media new opportunities.

Similar things have happened in the television business. The change from a limited number of television channels to hundreds of television, cable and satellite channels spread the audience, reduced the viewers of dominant stations, and made advertisers unwilling to continue paying previous prices. The big 3 networks could count on ratings in the 20s to 30s in the 1970s, but today they achieve ratings in the teens and are fighting to stay among the big 3. Nevertheless, viewers want network programming--on TV, as DVD, as syndicated programming, as downloads. There is no sign that demand for interesting programs is diminishing even if the basic television ratings are falling and new ways of monetizing the content are being developed.

We all need to recognize that changes in traditional operations are painful for industries, companies, and their personnel and that the contemporary changes are placing a lot of stress on management and employees. Everyone would prefer to continue doing things in the old ways they know well, but because of the new conditions those business models, processes, and market techniques aren't working as effectively as in the past.

The biggest challenges facing people in traditional media today are pessimism and lack of vision. Morale in publications and stations continues to drop, and doom and gloom are everywhere. That negativism makes things worse internally, reduces confidence of advertisers and investors, and makes it difficult to think about trying new things or even trying old things in new ways. The first step out of this condition is to stop lamenting the passing of the past. Things will never be the way they were. So get over it. Move on. Discover and embrace new ways of operating and new opportunities to prosper and grow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

CHALLENGES OF TROUBLESOME AUDIENCES

Media companies have historically been relatively unconcerned about and even disdainful of individuals in their audiences.

Publishers produced newspaper in ways and at times that was convenient for themselves. Television channels offered programs on a take-it-when-offered basis—Too bad if you visited your mother and didn’t see it. Journalists and public service broadcasters conceived the public as an unkempt mass that need to be educated and led to think correctly and do the right things.

Audiences were things to aggregated and sold as commodities, so media executives pretended audiences were a unified, stable group in sales pitches and that advertisers were purchasing the same group of people hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

The reality is that audiences have always been individuals that changed constantly, but media companies needed to pretend otherwise in order to aggregate them and portray them as a unified group for sales pitches. A TV channel would tout itself as best at reaching women between 25 and 54 years of age, a magazine would promote that it offered more business decision makers than any other magazine, and a newspaper would tell advertisers its readers ate at restaurant an average of 125 nights a year. Never mind the others who watched the channel, read the magazine, or stayed home at night.

The fa├žade put up by media companies is eroding rapidly and is one reason why there is so much unease and shifting in media advertising markets today. Advertisers have discovered the big lie that audiences had specific characteristics and were stable.

The ascendancy of customer relationship managements and personal marketing, and the personal identification of audience members in interactive media have moved businesses to view them as individuals and to recognize that approaching them on an individual rather than mass basis increases return on marketing and advertising investments.

Media companies are waking up to the nightmare that many advertisers find the idea of mass audiences less appealing. At the same time, media firms are shifting their own offerings to try to make content—news and information, TV programs and films, and magazine content—available to individuals any time, any where, and across any platform.

Unfortunately most media companies are finding they know everything and nothing about their audiences. They know their average characteristics, habits, and purchases, but they no little about them individually, their individual lifestyles, and how they individually consume media and other products.

Media companies have a great deal of catching up to do in order to understand individual consumer behavior and its implications for their business models. Doing so will be difficult because media companies tend to know less about their customers than other types of companies. In the past media CRM programs have been absent and audience research has been relatively unsophisticated and had limited applicability.

One of the first lessons media executives are learning is that human beings are troublesome. They tend to do what they want, when they want, and how they want. They resist being constrained and controlled. They are prone to changing their minds and interests. They want flexibility in their lives. They make it different to predict their preferences because their tastes and needs change over time. They are fickle consumers who have the audacity behave as individuals rather than an aggregated group.

Some consumers want music while they are walking to the office; some want news about stock prices at 10 a.m.; others want short video entertainment when they have a coffee break at 2:30 p.m.; some want to view a prime time TV program at 5:30 p.m. when they are taking the commuter train home; still others want a recipe from a cooking magazine at 6 p.m. when they get home or a video of their choice at 8 p.m.

These demands are highly problematic because media technologies and industry structures have traditionally allowed them to tell consumers what they would get to consume and when they would get to consume it. Few companies have the competence or infrastructures to handle the new demand-driven world of media.

Media companies need to make understanding audiences and the individuals that join audiences center point of their management attention. They need to find ways to develop better relationships with them if they are to prosper in the changing environment. It is a strategic challenge that must addressed if companies are to remain vital in the media choices of their customers.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RECORD COMPANIES SURRENDER TO CONSUMERS ON DOWNLOAD DRM

A quiet victory of music consumers has occurred now that Sony BMG Music Entertainment has become the final major recording company to drop digital rights management protection on its digital downloads.

Major recording companies starting placing protection software on downloadable files in 2005 and 2006 to protect the music files from being passed on to other listeners. The digital rights management software, however, often blocked consumers who had purchased downloads from moving files to portable music players or even to new computers and from making compilations discs of their favorite music.

The software incensed many consumers because it forced consumers to purchase multiple copies or forced them to illicitly bypass the software if they wished to use music they had purchased on more than on platform. Many felt it was unfair that one did not “own” the download in the same way as a CD, a book, or a DVD and voiced their frustration in blogs, music forums, and to the record companies.

Opposition grew so strong among consumers that consumer rights and competition authorities in both the U.S. and Europe soon began to investigate and question the practice.

In 2007 EMI and Universal Music Group dropped the DRM measures and Warner Music Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment have now followed suit in 2008.

Although the recording companies would still have preferred that consumers only be able to "rent" music and never own it--giving them the possibility to limit the number of times a download could be played before an additonal payment would be required, they ultimately gave in to consumer oppostition and are recognizing that consumers view music purchased in whatever form as substitutable.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

ONLINE AND MOBILE REVENUE POTENTIAL DRIVE COMPENSATION DISPUTES

The issues in the Hollywood writer’s strike, which began Nov. 5, are symptomatic of a broader challenges that online and mobile media pose for all content creators. The fundamental issues for all media involve how to obtain revenue for content distributed by digital media and how to share revenue from those downloads.

In the Hollywood case, the central issues revolve around new media residuals for advertising supported video downloads of content prepared for TV and motion pictures, made for Internet content, and other streaming video. Screen writers, who did not foresee the success of VCR and DVD sales of motion pictures and television programs in past negotiations, are determined to receive greater compensation for the growing business in digital downloads.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers argues that business potential of new media is uncertain and does not wish stipulate a monetary value for it. The Writer's Guild of America has asked for a $250 residual for one year of unlimited streaming of an hour-long show and 3-cents-per-download—the rate writer’s receive for DVD sales.

The rhetoric of the dispute has involved standard finger pointing with the producers’ group accusing writers of “quixotic pursuit of radical demands” and the writers accusing the producers of “corporate greed.”

Whatever the truth of those claims and the outcome of the work stoppage, there will be more disagreements in the coming years among those who actually produce content and those who employ creators or ultimately own the content because the issues are far broader and deeper than the screen writers challenging program and film producers. The underlying issue of what compensation creators deserve is growing in all media industries and digital downloads increasingly play important roles in their businesses.

In the past 20 years, at the behest of large commercial media firms, Congress past more copyright legislation than in all the years of the previous century combined. It extended the length of copyright, gave copyright protection to performers, games, and broadcasts, provided more protection and stronger penalties for digital than analogue content, and criminalized copyright violations.

The rhetoric of the media industry throughout the debates was consistent: If creators of content aren’t protected and compensated, no one will create articles, books, music, scripts, etc. However, the effect of the copyright legislation did not effectively strengthen the position of authors, composer, performers, or artists, but reinforced the power of copyright owners--essentially film, television, and recording companies, newspaper, magazine, and book publishers. Today, creators of content are now beginning to use the rhetoric that media firms used in copyright debates in their attempts to gain more compensation because of the growing revenue streams in digital media.

Although the full financial future of digital media is uncertain—as in any emerging industry, media firms are investing billions based on an upbeat assessment of its business opportunities. Twentieth Century Fox just announced a deal to rent its movies through digital downloads from the iTunes Store, which sold more than 200 million video downloads in 2007. Viacom signed a $500 million online advertising and content distribution deal with Microsoft covering the websites they both operate such as MTV, Comedy Central, MSN, and Xbox Live. You Tube was purchased by Google for $1.65 million and subsequently acquired the ad-serving firm DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in order to improve its ability to earn ad revenue on You Tube and other sites.

Although there is business risk involved in these ventures, digital media are clearly growing and are expected to produce handsome rewards. Downloads of movies and TV produced only $250 million in 2007, but are forecasted to reach nearly $2 billion in just 2 years. Digital downloads of music have already surpassed that mark and U.S. newspapers had online advertising revenue of $2.6 billion in 2006. There is money to be made in digital media and the amount is rising rapidly.

The growing value of digital downloads is one of the reasons why Viacom sued You Tube in 2007 for $1 billion in damages when 160,000 clips of its programs that were found on the online site. When media companies sue each other, you know that real money is at stake.

Arguments made by Hollywood producers that they are uncertain if there is money to be made in downloads are hollow given their own investments. It appears they are trying to reduce their business risk and to increase their profits by keeping writers’ compensation low and stropping them from gaining a stake in the growth of downloads.

The issues of compensation that led screenwriters to strike are confronting writers and photographers for newspapers, magazines, and books, independent video producers posting material on social media sites, and citizen journalists whose articles, photos, and videos are being use by commercial media and their digital sites--sometimes replacing paid content of professionals.

Now that online services are beginning to generate significant revenue streams for print media, journalists’ and writers’ desires to gaining more compensation for those uses of their work are rising. Although some papers and magazines agreed to provide nominal payments or salary increases for secondary uses of print content online, most have not yet come to terms over the growing revenue stream and how its benefits should be shared.

One can expect issues of compensation for digital materials to gain greater significance as negotiating points for the Newspaper Guild and the National Writer’s Union in the years to come. Both have lent their support to the Writer’s Guild of America and their members are increasingly aware of the effects of the new revenue streams on the companies that employ them.