Monday, February 09, 2009

A Guide to the New Rules for Media Orgs That Aren't Quite Dead Yet

To those of you who are young, or those of you who are tech savvy, what I'm going to say is going to be pretty obvious but given what's going on with main stream media outlets it apparently needs to be repeated.

When I wrote the post on the dying days of big media I said that you had to start thinking of your media, regardless of the type of content, as a website. At the time I didn't go into much detail on this so just in case people out there didn't understand (and I've heard from a few who didn't) let me explain:

First look around the web. Web sites do not discriminate by media type. Audio, video, and text are all welcome and good web sites use all three. In future when people visit you they won't turn to your television station or your radio station or pick up your newspaper or magazine - they will navigate to an address. As I said there will be no difference between a TV, a radio, a laptop and a portable media device (people used to call them cell phones). So people will visit you the same way they visit a web site now and your content should be ready when they get there.

The first thing you need to do is get rid of your schedule your visitors won't care about your schedule (they don't care now.) So your content is either available right now, or it's not and if it's not your audience won't be happy - you're operating on their schedule now.

Second, stop protecting your content. Streaming is fine, but people may want to take your content with them - let them. If you don't someone else will record your content and share it. Will people cut your content up and do things with it you might not approve of? Only if you're lucky. The reality is that if people don't want to take your content with them, share it with their friends or make their own edits and mash ups of it you're probably not going to survive, so make it easy for people to do these things - they'll appreciate it.

If you're worried about the bandwidth of all those downloads, use BitTorrent. If people like your content enough they'll be willing to share it and they will absorb some of the bandwidth required at no cost to you. Yes this means that it will be harder to track the number of viewers, listeners etc., but media is going to have to grow up and find new ways of tracking popularity. The reality is that if your content has an audience smart advertisers will know and will be interested in working with you. If your content is not popular they won't.

So, again - your web site should now be the focus of your organization. All of your content should be there. It should be easy to find and easy to get at. It should be available on your audiences schedule and at their convenience. It should be available in whatever format they want, and they should be able to subscribe to it easily. If you are going to charge for content make it inexpensive and make it easy to pay - be aware thought that if you charge at all you should not also have advertising.

On the flip side if you are going to have advertising (don't charge obviously and) make the advertising unobtrusive. If you put 30 minutes of advertising into a one hour program people will go to the trouble of editing it out and sharing the ad free version. Do not, whatever else you do, integrate the advertising into the content - you will lose your audience.

Above all be true to your audience. If you are, for example, a news organization your integrity is all you have. You are now in competition worldwide - if the audience gets the sense that you are not honest and reliable you will lose them in droves.

On a final and related note. I also mentioned in my last note that organizations would be "smaller, more flexible and more focused." This is not just an economic requirement. Technology and media technology changes rapidly and will continue to for the foreseeable future, when things change you have to change with them. This means watching your audience and changing to meet their needs but it also means that when the next Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., comes along you can't hold meetings and strategy sessions to find out if you should be there. You should be there. The goal will be to get there quickly and in full force - no time for debates and meetings. If it takes you a year to formulate a strategy to meet the new environment, you're too late. You might get some small benefeit from going forward but ultimately you just have to hope you can catch the next wave.

I know some of you won't believe this or don't like it and want to change the approach but this isn't a strategy, this is reality. You are living through a media revolution that will make the invention of the printing press look like the dawn of the salad shooter and will make the arrival of broadcast look like the ShamWow. Large media organizations in the music industry, the film industry and to an extent the television industry (mostly in the U.S.) have made to colossal mistake of seeing this as a negotiation with the audience. It is not a negotiation, it is a colossal shift in the way people create and consume media and you can't negotiate with it any more than you can negotiate with an earthquake.

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