Tuesday, 6 August 2013
The sales of the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos and the Boston Globe to John Henry raise the question why people would want to own newspapers if they aren’t doing so for obvious financial gain.
There are clearly people who want to own papers for political purposes so they can directly influence debate and policy. This is certainly the case for the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, who have been trying to buy the Los Angeles Times this past year. But Bezos and Henry don't seem to fit that mold.
Bezos’ purposes for buying the Post are not the pursuit of profit. He certainly would produce better returns putting more effort into Amazon or another commercial firm. John Henry can expect far more returns from effort in his investment firm or his sports empire than the Globe. So why are they buying legacy media?
The answers lie in human traits. All of us need diversions. We need toys to play with; things to spark our interest and imaginations.
Bezos can clearly bring ideas and expertise gained from shifting the mail order catalog concept to the web and contribute his innovative spirit to the Post.The challenges of learning the media business and trying to transform its distribution and operations are clearly interesting and attractive. And the price for the Amazon creator isn’t high.
John Henry doesn’t bring great digital expertise to the Globe, but he does bring strong organization, marketing, and turn-around skills and experience to the effort. He also has strong local community ties and bringing ownership back to Boston is a gift to the city. Especially because hating everything associated with New York is the city's pastime.
The newspaper ownership will also make both of them more respectable as citizens, not just as businessmen. There is a long tradition of wealthy U.S. merchants, industrialists, and traders playing citizenship roles in public life and philanthropy after achieving immense personal success. These range from Andrew Carnegie to J.P. Morgan and J. Paul Getty to Bill Gates.
Some who moved into public roles have done so to gain respectability that eluded them because of harm they caused while climbing to the top; other because of a genuine desire to make society better.
The sales of the Post and the Globe reveal a breed of owner who wants not just respectability or making contributions to society, but a place to use their knowledge and abilities to tackle new challenges. Whether it will help the newspaper industry remains to be seen, but it will at least inject new ways of thinking into the industry.
Wednesday, 17 July 2013
Ambient news is proving a significant challenge to news organizations trying to serve readers on multiple digital platforms and maintain their print and broadcast news operations.
Contemporary technologies all around us are now delivering breaking news, sports scores, and market updates on electronic screens and displays in elevators, taxis and buses, bars and restaurants, on the sides of buildings, through smartphones, and via social media.
In years past, we all had to deliberately turn to newspapers or radio and television newscasts, or at least glance at headlines at news stands, to get a quick overview of major events. That era is past.
Today news is free and ubiquitous and, unfortunately, provides all the news that most people want. This is bad news for those trying to provide news commercially.
In the past, newspapers and newscasts filled their space and time with non-news features and information designed to attract audiences that wanted only a little news. Most newspapers, for example, rarely carried more than 20 percent hard news during the past 50 years and provided a heavy diet of sports, entertainment, lifestyle and other diversionary content. Today, light news readers who formerly bought papers for non-news articles find plenty of that information for free on television and the Internet and they are abandoning newspapers and news broadcasts.
Those who remain the audiences of newspapers and new broadcasts tend to be heavy news consumers, people who want significant amount of news and serious information. They value the kind of news reporting that provides social benefits. Unfortunately, they are getting less and less of that news as publishers, news producers, and editors continue pursuing the audiences that have left them and are satisfied by ambient news. In doing so, news executives are leaving their prime audiences of heavy news consumers increasingly dissatisfied and without much incentive to pay the increasing prices needed to maintain established news organizations.
If print and broadcast news organizations are to survive and serve the purposes for which they were established, they are going to have to start paying attention to the audiences they have, rather than the audiences they wish they had.
Saturday, 27 April 2013
The European television industry is one of the most balanced in the world, with public service broadcasters, advertising-supported broadcasters, and pay television operators reasonably dividing television revenues among themselves. For the 27 countries of the EU, pay TV accounts for about 38% of total revenue, public funded broadcasters for about 34%, and advertiser supported television for about 28%.
Unlike the US where private television dominates, most Europe private television began after liberalization broke the monopolies held by public service and state television in most countries. It has taken decades for private television to establish a mature place in the market.
When looking specific countries, however, total spending on TV (advertising, subscriptions, public funding) is not evenly spread. Adjusted for population, it ranges between €5 and €30 per person among nations, with an average of €15. There a notable differences between southern, central, and eastern European nations and nations in the north and west of Europe, where public service and pay TV are strong players.
Some markets are skewed with unusually strong TV subsectors. In Germany and Sweden publicly-funded TV is unusually dominant; there is unusually poor performance of advertising-funded TV in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Montenegro and Romania.
Today, pay television is the most positive sector in European television, with subscriptions for basic services and payments for video-on-demand services growing and the sector benefiting from the growth of video viewing on smartphones and tablets, particularly for its original programming.
Advertising-supported television is being squeezed between the more stable funding of public service broadcasters and pay TV providers and being hurt because advertisers in some countries remain reluctant to accept catch-up viewing in audience measurements for program broadcasts. It is not benefiting as much from video-on demand services as public service and pay TV broadcasters because much programming on advertising-supported TV is not original production owned by the broadcasters.
In order to survive in the new television environment, advertising-support TV in Europe has developed a diversified revenue, combining income from advertising, paid programming (home shopping, religious programming, etc.), product placement, sponsored events such as concerts and fairs, telecommunication promotions and services related to programming, income producing contests and lotteries, and renting studio space and providing video production services for advertising and corporate use.
Despite find their niches, both advertising supported and pay TV operators are now mounting efforts to obtain public funding to improve domestic program offering. In a number of countries they are asking policymakers to create contestable public funding to produce quality domestic content. They have asked cultural ministries to set aside funds for the purpose or asked regulators to divert portions of public service license-fee payments for the purpose.
In the contemporary environment, the business model of European advertising-supported TV needs significant addition, primarily because traditional TV advertising has low value for both viewers and advertisers today and there is a need to seek news ways to connect the two commercially. The extent to which they will rise to the occasion remains to be seen.
Friday, 29 March 2013
Legacy news organizations (newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters) are confronting three critical relevance challenges as the digital world matures: Changing business configurations and characteristics, declining value of traditional news and informational content, and unhealthy attitudes toward audiences. These challenges will need significant attention if they are to be successful in the new information environment.
During the twentieth century news products were widely used, fast-moving consumer goods. Because media operated in relatively inefficient markets, news organizations were cash-producing investments with high cash flows that yielded high profits. Newspapers had asset-heavy balance sheets and excellent equity positions.The business drivers of the legacy news industry in the latter half of the twentieth century were growing consumption in absolute audience sizes (but declining penetration that most executives ignored). Companies changed high prices for advertising and set low prices (or no price) for consumers. They had the ability to self-finance operations and growth, carried relatively low debt loads (with the exception of a few firms during acquisition binges in the late 1990s and first decade of the millennium), and their shares were highly desired by investors.
Those conditions have changed markedly. The emergent business characteristics are that news is a low-demand consumer good with niche audiences, producing low cash flow, requiring asset-light balance sheets, and producing normal rather than excess profits.
Today there is diminishing consumption of news in traditional forms by audiences and advertisers, increasing prices for audience consumption and decreasing prices for advertising in many media. Low debt loads have become a necessity and most news organizations are no longer attractive investments. These changing characteristics and business factors are not a short-term problem, but represent a comprehensive transformation of the industry.Compounding these business challenges is the reduced value of news and information content provided by most news organizations. Fifty years ago, you had to read a newspaper if you wanted to know what the weather was going to be, whether your favorite team won the match last night, whether share prices of your investments were up or down, what was happening in the school your children attended, whether the government was planning to increase taxes, whether the conflicts in other parts of the world were going to affect you, and what commentators were saying about public affairs.
Today, we have enormously increased amounts of news and information available from a wide variety of paid and free sources. At the better end of the spectrum is expert journalism in which economists, scientists, bankers, and other cover many topics of interest and specialized independent journalists and news organizations that are covering military affairs, social benefits, and corruption. Unfortunately, the overall trend is toward a narrower form of news and information, with reduced focus on issues, oversight, and analysis, and an inordinant supply of celebrity, sports, and entertainment news.
If legacy news providers are to overcome the content challenges, they will need to rethink and improve the value of content on all their platforms and strive to make their news and information unique. The content of news organizations will need to be reconceptualized and can’t just be moved across platforms because each is a different product, used in different ways by consumers, and needs different types of news and information to be prominent and presented in different forms.Of equal importance, news organizations and journalists will need to interact with audiences in new ways that are outside their comfort zones. This is problematic because journalism has traditionally had highly paternalistic role definitions, seeing its functions as educating the rabble, guiding thought and opinion, protecting social order, and comforting the people. These definitions combine with professional values promoting wariness of social alliances and distrust of sources of information to make most journalists stand separate from the society and people they cover.
Those attitudes create significance relevance problems in the digital world because it is networked and collective, based on relationships and collaboration, and relies on connections built on shared values and interests, acceptance, transactions, reciprocity, acceptance, and trust. The public is increasingly adopting values and norms of the digital world and this is creating many conflicts with journalism.
Journalism remains firmly rooted in the material world which is based on structured relationships, privacy and concealment, property, hierarchy, control, and formality. But the digital world is based on more amorphous relationships, revelation and transparency, sharing, collaboration, empowerment, and informality. Consequently many news organizations have difficulties relating to the public in the digital world and are struggling to adapt.
For news organizations, adjusting to the new world is not simply a matter of finding new revenue, moving content to new platforms, and maintaining existing relationships with the public. It will require a complete rethinking of the roles and functions of news media, how they fit into peoples’ lives, and where they are positioned in the new information environment. These are enormous challenges and need to receive increased attention.