Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Dying Days of Big Media

Media news is coming too fast and furious to keep up. The layoff announcements are a daily event (it's even worse in the US). Commercial television appears to be seeking a relaxing of the few rules that allow them to use the public airwaves. They may get it, it won't make any difference in the long term. Canada's media leaders still do not seem to understand the shifting landscape.

Yes content is still king, you're right about that, but that in and of itself won't get you anywhere. The easiest way to understand is to think of your media (television, radio, print, etc) as a website. In 10 years there will be no difference between a TV station and a web site. For a lot of younger, tech-savvy people there really isn't much difference now.

So, you've got a web site. Now you have to ask yourself who it is for. If you said 'everyone' or 'the general public' you're probably wrong. Here's the test: Google is for everyone. Google now has dozens of features and applications for virtually every interest, mood and niche group. Do you have the staff and resources to do that? Can you build and maintain a news site, a video library, your own web browser and office applications, a searchable book library, image library, communications software, can you buy and sell advertising, run a blogging platform, etc., etc., and adding more every day. In other words if you have a large staff of talented people, recruited from around the world and you have very deep pockets you can try to have 'something for everyone'. If you can't do this then you have to choose your niche and remember web sites are global so you are carving your niche out of a potential audience of 6.5 billion people.

So answer the question again and be very specific, as specific as you can about who your audience is and what you're going to offer them. Having done that you have to go through and re-assess who your competitors are (globally and locally) and see what they are offering. Only then will you have any idea how to proceed and prepare for the future.

To the leaders of Canadian media: you are metaphorically lying in the road getting run over at 10 second intervals and have been there for a few years now. You're not dead yet, but you don't seem to be in the best of health. Whatever direction you decide to go getting out of the road would be a good first step. Your inaction is really becoming painful to watch.

To the people who work in media and are not in charge of the direction: Get ready. The days of 'big media' are nearly over. While an economic recovery may bring back some jobs for the short term, media in the future is going to be smaller, more flexible and more focused. Also, on their current path most of Canada's media giants won't survive.

The CBC's Radio 3 is the closest to the mark - promoting Canadian independent music to an international audience, they have strong relationships with artists, fans and others who are involved in their niche. There does seem, based on recent developments, to be a faction at R3 that wants to make 'indie' more mainstream. Hopefully this is a false start (or a false impression) as it would be a disaster. The 'mainstream' is barely there anymore and shrinking, it is really just the largest niche now and you can't go after that niche without abandoning the one you have.

If you are among the many recent layoffs my advise would be to (between sending out resumes and combing the want ads) take to the virtual airwaves. Whether it's video, audio or text the barriers to entry are low, sponsorships are out there to be had, and even if it's only temporary what you learn (about technology and the audience) will serve you well going forward.

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