Monday, March 23, 2009

Bad Media! No Cigar

I'm still working on the best way to create that forum on the future of media but a flurry of recent media news, from Canada and abroad, gives me the impression that the brains behind 'media' still don't have a fragment of a clue in most cases.

First 'old media' or 'main stream media' (whichever you prefer) needs to get over the idea that changes are coming. I mean more changes are coming but there is not going to come a point where it stops changing at least in the foreseeable future.

The future is now, the changes have happened and are continuing. All you have to do is read blogs like Technology Futurist, mediacaster and NewTeeVee to know how much things have changed and how rapidly the changes are happening. I listened to a (web) radio show recently where they asked about people's television habits and none of the people under 30 who weighed in still owned a television. They all still watched television programs, but they downloaded them and watched them on their computers. If you are waiting for some kind of order to emerge, for some 'new reality' to show itself you're in for a long wait. The fragmentation of the audience isn't only happening between different channels, it's happening among different modes of media consumption and it's accelerating. Wait and see simply isn't an option.

If you want to play by the old rules you can, but to do that you have to accept that your audience is primarily going to be 45-50+ and be prepared to age with them.

The second thing that old media has to accept is that they are not going to get special treatment. Robert Heinein said, in 1939,
"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."
But that is exactly what much of the established media seems to be asking for. According to Ad Age big media companies now want special treatment from Google:
Many publishers resent the criteria Google uses to pick top results, starting with the original PageRank formula that depended on how many links a page got. But crumbling ad revenue is lending their push more urgency; this is no time to show up on the third page of Google search results. And as publishers renew efforts to sell some content online, moreover, they're newly upset that Google's algorithm penalizes paid content.

"You should not have a system," one content executive said, "where those who are essentially parasites off the true producers of content benefit disproportionately."
The Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) still wants a levy on your internet connection to pay for downloads though they don't say how they would decide who got paid or how much, they don't say what would happen to musicians who weren't members of SAC, they don't say what would happen with other media (such as movies or tv shows) or whether these would require their own levies.

(As an aside a fair - across the board, accountable, trackable levy for everyone might be doable.)

Basically though you can't legislate your way back in time. None of the proposed solutions - from Digital Rights Management (DRM) to traffic shaping, law suits, taxes and levies have proven effective in changing public behavior or in aiding the survival of old media that refuses to adapt.

It might be helpful to consider the possibility that people don't 'decide' how to consume media. Some people might give it some thought, but for the most part people do what works for them, what is most convenient, they consume media in the way that gets them the content they want with the least effort. They may say that they 'never download illegally' but if they get home from taking the survey and realize they've missed the season finale of their favorite show, they will download it. Your task is to find a way to deliver that option.

I'm tired of the headlines and the hearings though. You have to adapt to the world, the world is not going to adapt to you. The revenue streams you have access to are government grants and subsidies, advertising and getting consumers to pay for content (if you can swing it). How you survive though is not going to be settled in Ottawa, it will not be by an act of parliament, or the CRTC it will be by finding a way to deliver good quality content to consumers in a the ways that they want it.

I am all for arts subsidies, for an increased budget for the CBC, and I don't even mind networks get extra help during the recession, as long as it's everyone (including the CBC) and not just the Tories picking the media they like and bailing them out. But all of the subsidies, grants and bailouts in the world will not help traditional media if they don't find a way to adapt.

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