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Why There Is No Dominant Trend Toward New Media

2009 November 25

Out with the old and in with the new?

In media and marketing circles today it is fashionable to talk about the trend toward “New Media.”  The story is dramatic and exciting: innovative digital entrepreneurs are making old ways obsolete while fat media incumbents sit on their hands.  The wave of the future is destroying the overgrown giants of the past.

Despite appearances, the talk doesn’t reflect the evidence.  The dominant trend is actually toward greater media diversity.

Why There Appears to be a Trend Towards “New Media”

To people who focus on Digital Media, the story seems simple:  Digital technology is enabling people to communicate in ways that are truly new and different.  We are becoming a “publishing society” where amateurs compete with professionals and consumers are responding to new choices.

Advocates of this view proclaim that it is just a matter of time before the “Old Media” is obsolete.  The attitude isn’t  hubris alone.  There are some facts that give the appearance of momentum.

A quick look at internet statistics shows that internet adoption rates are the most dramatic of any technology in history.  From virtually nothing a decade ago, there is a 75% penetration rate in the US.  At the same time, Digital Media has become a multi-billion dollar business capturing one out of every ten ad dollars.

It’s not just an American phenomenon either.  Fully one quarter of the world’s population is now online – 1.6 billion people!  Considering the fact that, according to the World Bank, roughly one quarter of the world lives on less than $1.25 per day that’s truly an astonishing figure.

However, for there to be a trend toward “New Media” there would have to be a trend away from “Old Media,” and that’s where the argument breaks down.

An Evolutionary Analogy

A similar misconception pervades common views on evolutionary biology.  The popular, but inaccurate, view is that there was an onward march from simple to complex organisms culminating in the human race.

An initial examination of fossil evidence would at first appear to back up this account.   As time went on, organisms did become more complex.

However, as Stephen Jay Gould pointed out in his book Full House, there is no direction of progress in evolution.  Natural selection is just as likely to produce simpler organisms as it is complex ones.  More diversity creates more niches, reinforcing the trend towards greater variation.

Because life started out simple, an increase in diversity would give the appearance of a tendency towards complexity.  However, that’s a mathematical illusion.

If even a small minority of new organisms was more complex than precursors, ever more complicated organisms would be created with no general trend toward complexity. While the concept is a bit counter-intuitive, it is also a mathematical fact.

Media evolution follows the same pattern. While there is ever more new media, there is more traditional media as well and small moves in established business can easily eclipse dramatic developments in start-ups.

The New Media Reality

The truth is, while Digital Media is growing, most traditional media are remarkably stable if not growing as well – and at much higher penetration rates than digital media.

According to Nielson (pdf), TV viewership in the US was at an all time high in 2008.  While some viewership is timeshifted on TiVo and online, that percentage of viewing is remarkably small, much lower than DVR and broadband penetration rates would suggest and a surprising amount of ads are watched when timeshifting.

Other media show similar stability.  Magazines readership has actually increased and Radio listenership remains stable.

Although consumers increasingly possess the technology to bypass programming, they seem to prefer it.  Mostly, people use technology to augment their traditional media consumption rather than replace it. That may change, but for now there is no evidence that it will.

Revenues tell a similar story.  According to ZenithOptimedia, there has been no significant drop in advertising expenditure shares for most media.  In the US, Magazine revenue shares are up, TV is down but only slightly (from 36% to 33%), while Radio and outdoor have been relatively stable. Although trends vary by region, the basic narrative holds for the rest of the world as well.

The one anomaly is Newspapers, which do seem to be in serious trouble.  However, even that exception would seem to prove the rule.  The decline in Newspaper revenues accounts for the entire increase in Digital Media over the last decade and much of that is due to classifieds rather than display advertising.

Content: The Once and Future King

One reason for the resiliency of traditional media is content.  Magazine Editors, TV Producers and Radio Programmers draw on an enormous body of collective experience and wisdom.  Moreover, they are very talented people.  As a group, they do their jobs well – they have to, competition is fierce.

Technology doesn’t alter the basic reality that communication is essentially a human endeavor.  The ubiquity of mobile phones doesn’t change the fact that it is frustrating to talk to an idiot and enjoyable to converse with interesting people.

Nor does technology diminish face-to-face contact, if anything, it is becoming more valuable.  Richard Florida has gathered an enormous body of evidence that as technology increases the talented people that drive it tend to congregate in the same places.

This is more than theoretical.  The value of content can be measured.  Advertisers are willing to pay ten to twenty times more to advertise on branded content sites than they are to advertise on social media sites.  With good reason, much of the social content is crap.

Professionals who devote their lives to producing content generally do a much better job than amateurs who do it part time.

The Folly of Picking Winners

As Mark Penn points out in his book, we are living in an era of microtrends.  A potential market penetration of merely 1% can be viable; it can even create a hit.  While capturing 1% of the US market can make a very successful business, it doesn’t qualify as a dominant trend.

So while it’s easy to get lost in the excitement of new possibilities, it’s important to remember to put them in perspective.  When Facebook announced that it was cash flow positive, little was made of the fact that most media companies are expected to make profits.

While the odds are that Facebook will eventually become profitable, they’re the market leader.  How many digital initiatives will fail?  Is the probability of success in “New Media” any greater than in “Old Media?”   Maybe so, but there is nothing in the data to substantiate the claim.

The truth is that in a world of ever increasing diversity, consumers have more power to choose.  The only sure bet is to create products that entertain, inform and excite audiences, service them well and create value.  The evidence suggests that is a media-neutral proposition.

What’s the future? More of everything (except newspapers).

- Greg

44 Responses leave one →
  1. November 25, 2009

    Good post Greg but always be careful with statistical analysis. For instance, while TV viewing is up why is that? Could it be the simple fact that more people are out of work and spending many more hours at home in front of their screens? Also, New Media, in my humble estimation, has been virtually locked out of old media with their walled garden approach biz model. Back in 2001 I was MSM for a new CE box that brought a browser w/RF mouse/keyboard and TV together on the same screen. Sadly the company ran out of dough and crumbled after 9/11…but imagine if we had had 10 years of products like that in the mix and what New Media breakthroughs could have occurred knowing all the tools were available to reach and interact with the home’s main screen. The game machines are almost there already.

    Ten years later however I’m happy to report we’re about to break out of the walled garden. There is a renaissance afoot between the new interactive content in dev and boxes ready for market that will afford us all a chance to partake in the action. Hold on it’s coming!

    Best,
    Ftahmo

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Fathmo,

    Your point is well taken and TV viewership has fallen as the economy has improved. However, in 2008, viewership was the highest ever and we have had bad economic times before. Moreover, such high ratings is inconsistent with view that is often espoused that people don’t watch TV anymore.

    I also see your point about convergence, but actually believe that it underlines my case. New technology not only creates more competition for traditional media, it also enables them to improve their product. Much, if not most, of the innovation is incremental rather than disruptive.

    Thanks for a great comment.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  2. Claudia Johnson permalink
    November 25, 2009

    Nice article, Greg, and an interesting thought. I’m wondering if Nielsen reported an upswing in viewership in 2008 because as the economy declined, folks stayed home and watched TV. Also of interest is to note that advertising spend in TV has not increased (overall advertising budgets continue to decrease) – perhaps an increase in spend should be considered if the audience is there.
    I also thought it is noteworthy that the increase in digital offsets the decrease in newspaper. The Wall Street Journal made an unpopular initial decision to charge for its content (much like people pay to read the newspaper) but perhaps that’s the only way to save the newspapers…we live in a “now” society and to bring the news tomorrow morning as opposed to right when it’s happening is no longer good enough.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Claudia,

    Thank you for a very thoughtful comment.

    Yes, I’m sure that the economy had something to do with the high TV ratings, but they were the highest ever recorded. They have fallen as the economy has improved, but again, the numbers are completely inconsistent with the notion that people have stopped watching TV.

    The biggest problem for newspapers isn’t that nobody wants to read them, but that the business has relied heavily on classifieds. The internet provides a much more efficient infrastructure for direct response.

    I actually suspect that Murdoch might be successful with his paid content strategy, but the Wall Street Journal is a unique product. As with media in general, I suspect we’ll see a variety of successful models.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  3. November 25, 2009

    Great post Greg. It’s refreshing to see people taking a more balanced view of the new media and not just leaping onto the bandwagon. We need more voices like yours.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Bruce,

    That’s high praise indeed. I’m grateful.

    Thanks.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  4. John MacDonald permalink
    November 25, 2009

    One of the trends I’ve observed over the last 5 years is that the growth of TV viewership has largely been driven by the smaller networks ((i.e.. below the Top 10) which makes sense. Most of these nets appeal to a more targeted demo, which allows them over time to peel viewers away from the larger general entertainment nets who don’t fit their tastes quite as well. In any given year, a given network may be up or down based on the specific programming profile, (the network business remains a hit driven business after all, especially at the top end). But over the next 5 years it will become increasingly difficult for these larger cable nets to continue to grow in the face of this increasingly large pool of competitors. They are now walking in the shoes of the broadcast nets, who for the last 30 years have seen their viewership eroded by the more targeted, (and more creatively successful), cable competition.

    And in the short term it’s reasonable to expect DVRs to support rather than subtract time spent viewing, as it makes it more convenient for viewers to watch what they want when they want. The networks most affected by technology, (and it’s DVRs more than the Internet doing the affecting), are those that rely on repeats of their original programming to drive their total day rating. DVRs haven’t eliminated channel surfing, (sometimes you’re just not in the mood for what you’ve recorded), but they’ve clearly reduced the amount of time spent surfing.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    John,

    Thanks your comment. Lots of good points.

    I completely agree with your comment about DVR’s. It’s all turning out much differently than expected. While roughly 30% of US households are enabled for timeshifting, it makes up for less than 5% of viewing and those that view watch a lot more ads than anybody thought they would.

    One point about TV networks: While much of you say is true, it is also important to note that not only are networks still around, they also dominate the ratings.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  5. November 26, 2009

    Two maxims we operate by:
    1. Technology changes, people don’t
    2. People want to eat, but they don’t want to join the hunt.

    Television works well because it feeds people without them having to hunt. Internet is not so lucky which is why content probably has to be hyperbolically good to be consumed. I’m only guessing based on life experience and have no research to back it up. But, doesn’t matter if I did, there would be other to argue the other side :-)

    Newspapers are declining because most abdicated their role of in-depth ANALYSIS of the news in favor of re-hashed manure shoved in between ads and classifieds. They stopped telling us WHY in favor of a lot of WHAT. The WSJ in unique in that it goes in-depth about the WHY (but is starting to lean way right… that is probably not good long-term)

    Something to think about when predicting the future.
    http://www.dogwalkblog.com/2009/10/30/how-i-know-anyone-who-predicts-the-future-will-be-wrong/

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Gerald,

    Great points, thanks.

    One comment about newspapers: The biggest problem newspapers face is that their business was largely based on classifieds, and that is where they are getting killed. Their challenge is to build a stronger display ad business. They are too slow for FMCG and too fast for many durable goods and business services.

    As you mentioned, some players will probably be successful with premium content that they can get people to pay for, but very few will be able to do that. Top level commentary is extremely expensive and publishing daily requires a huge volume of content.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  6. November 26, 2009

    Great post! Do you expect, as I do that after this frenzy of competition and fragmentation we will see a cycle of consolidation? My expectation is that after the “fall” of big old media we will see the emergence of big new media, with a lot of familiar faces along with the new players.

    My business is builds events as media platforms. What is your take on the role of events in all this?

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Roger,

    Consolidation seems to go in cycles. For instance, cable TV allowed new players like MTV and CNN to emerge, but both became part of conglomerates. Nevertheless, we still see new stuff coming all the time and fragmentation marches on.

    Consolidation is related to profitability which is related to the business cycle. So I believe the story will continue to go on.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  7. drinkof permalink
    November 26, 2009

    Some good points, substantially weakened by playing the evolutionary card.

    I’m no evolutionary scientist, but I you’re pretty clearly overinterpreting Gould. The correct parallel would be to species inhabiting the same evolutionary niche in serial time frames who are thus ‘competing’ in an evolutionary sense. There’s a reason that homo sapiens ended up surviving and homo neanderthalis did not. Survival of the fittest still rules, sometimes served by complexity and sometimes by simplicity, depending on the niche.

    From a competition / evolution standpoint, print magazines (as an example) have stunning long term disabilities; they require hugely more inputs (the equivalent of calories) than their digital counterparts, and require vastly longer to respond to events. In that regard, several questions. “Magazines readership has actually increased …” – is that accompanied by magazine subscription rates? Or haven’t they fallen? Magazine readership bolstered by, e.g., subscriptions through air mile trade-ins, while not worthless, doesn’t really boost inputs enough to make up the difference, does it? “Magazine revenue shares are up …” – isn’t that a share of a diminished print market, which includes newspapers? Isn’t hard magazine revenue actually down?

    Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Frinkoff,

    I appreciate you’re thoughts. However:

    1. I was almost quoting Gould directly. Not only did he mean it, he spoke about it at length, provided extensive evidence, etc. He wrote an entire book about it.

    Moreover, a specific niche can support an infinite amount of adaptations and combinations of adaptations.

    2. The magazine share data was for all of media, not print. Yes, Print has generally been gaining since the birth of the internet. However, it’s also true that they’ve been hit harder by the crisis than other media. That shouldn’t be surprising because Magazines depend heavily on durable goods, which drive the business cycle.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  8. November 26, 2009

    Diversity is always a good thing – with investments, with friendships, and with media as well. A narrow focus will get narrow results.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Thx Momblebee.

    Insightful as always:-)

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  9. drinkof permalink
    November 26, 2009

    And seriously, Mark Penn? You might have at least recognized that he was the architect of the worst political campaign in the the world, having been at the center of one disastrous strategic decision after another which tossed HRC’s political juggernaut into the dustbin of history. Obama’s campaign was brilliant, but it would have come to little had not Penn and his crew crashed and burned, as much through hubris as dumbassity.

    You could have at least given a nod to the fact that Penn is widely considerered to be be evil, a moron or some combination of the two by many observers of the American political scene of all political persuasions.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Drinkoff,

    Worst political campaign? HRC fared considerably better than McCain and it wasn’t he who picked Sarah Palin.

    Besides, my point was about microtrends and not Mr. Penn personally, who I admittedly do not know much about except that he has had a higly successful career and runs one of the most successful PR agencies in the world.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  10. John MacDonald permalink
    November 26, 2009

    General entertainment networks still dominate and will continue to do so, though not as dominantly as before. None of the broadcast nets are as big as they once were, and the largest cable nets, (USA, TNT, TBS, etc.), who are the competitors to the broadcast nets, (as they are in fact general entertainment nets too), are continuing to steal share but I believe their continued growth prospects are dimming.

    Indeed the larger cable nets rely heavily on the health of the broadcast nets for the majority of overall ratings (acquired programming drives 75% or more of their total day rating, i.e. USA gets famous for Burn Notice and Monk, but pays the bills with NCIS and House reruns, along with features). And the broadcast nets aren’t creating as many true hits as they used to–their shift towards reality limits the supply of higher rated scripted reruns, and off-net comedies, the true drivers of ratings (Family Guy anyone?), have become a dying breed. The only legitimate hit reality series coming off the broadcast networks I can think of is Top Model, all the others have died.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    John,

    I wasn’t really disagreeing, more like clarifying. In any case, of course you’re right. As TV networks used to depend largely on the licenses of their affiliates, it was inevitable that they would lose some ground on a flatter playing field.

    I would also like to pick up on your thread about profitability. One of the big misconceptions about media is that top programing is profitable. Usually top shows are loss leaders that help drive audiences to cheaper programming with higher margins.

    TV broadcasters have a lot to teach other media about inventory management.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  11. John MacDonald permalink
    November 26, 2009

    No worries. Debate/disagreement always welcome–it’s what makes these discussions interesting and we all learn from the process.

    On profitability, to clarify, hit programming is almost always profitable, but it just depends how the profits are split. In the early years (usually the first 4 years), networks reap the majority of the profits as they have pre-negotiated their license fee and can usually sell the ad time for more than this programming expense, . In this stage the studio who produces the show carries a deficit, (in the hundreds of thousands per episode range). After the renegotiation (typically after year 4), the studio is able to negotiate a license fee closer (or in some cases in excess of) the production cost and can often recoup the deficits carried to date to bring them back whole. The studio is always looking to sell the hit series in the off-net (repeat) marketplace to make the big bucks. So the available profits created by hit series are almost always there, they just accrue predominantly to the networks initially, and to the studios later.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    John,

    Yes, but I think you’d agree that prime time isn’t nearly as profitable as fringe time. It doesn’t make much sense to calculate the profitability of hits without adding in the misses, they’re inseparable from a business planning standpoint. Moreover, valuation, trading and inventory management probably have a lot more to do with station profitability than ratings do.

    I bring up the point because I get a little bit tired of hearing people whine about how their media isn’t profitable because they’re to far ahead of the curve, but eventually everyone will come around…blah…blah…blah.

    I’ve never actually worked in TV (although I’ve bought a fair amount), but I’ve always been impressed by how programming is valued and inventory managed effectively at profitable broadcasters.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  12. drinkof permalink
    November 26, 2009

    “I was almost quoting Gould directly. Not only did he mean it, he spoke about it at length, provided extensive evidence, etc. He wrote an entire book about it.”

    My problem is not with your basic Gould, but with how you’re using it to support your argument. I haven’t read Full House, but have read most of Gould’s other books; as you note, he not only wrote an entire book on this point, it was a theme of his entire body of work. No quarrel there.

    I think that you’ve misapplied Gould’s point in this instance by over-interpretation. That evolution (and resulting population of ecological niches, small and large) can result in greater complexity or greater simplicity just doesn’t support your point concerning media. That popular mythology sometimes holds to the ‘ascent of Man’ vision of evolution (a whipping boy to which Gould returns, with great and sometimes humorous effect throughout his work) simply doesn’t really help your argument re: new / old media one way or another.

    “Moreover, a specific niche can support an infinite amount of adaptations and combinations of adaptations.”

    This just isn’t correct, even assuming that you’re taking poetic license with your use of the term ‘infinite’. As Gould would remind us, the number of potential mutations might be said to approach infinite (in the sense of ‘a very large number’). The number of adaptions resulting from that very large number is, by comparison, very small indeed.

    The number of successful adaptations is as a result severely constrained by the environment as reflect in that niche. One of the most critical of any such constraints in any niche is the relative intake requirement, e.g., nutrients for plants and animals.

    I have no dog in the fight, but old media really does need more calories. That doesn’t end the game, but it’s certainly problematic.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Drinkof,

    Well I have read the book and I can assure you that I’m being faithful to the argument.

    In any case, the point is mute. I was referring to the math of the argument, not the biology. A data curve can flatten, which would give it the appearance of directionality but actually have no change in central tendency.

    About the other stuff, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    Thanks for your input.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  13. drinkof permalink
    November 26, 2009

    >In any case, the point is mute. I was referring to the math of the argument, not the biology. A data curve can flatten, which would give it the appearance of directionality but actually have no change in central tendency.

    I have no problem with your representation of the math of evolution, per Gould. My problem is with your extension to the media ecosystem:

    “Media evolution follows the same pattern. While there is ever more new media, there is more traditional media as well and small moves in established business can easily eclipse dramatic developments in start-ups.”

    The fact that evolution has engendered more complex organisms without necessarily establishing a general trend to complexity is a systemic observation. Pervasive as it is, media exists in a rather specific ecosystem with accompanying constraints, as Gould be the first to emphasize. Within those systems, more fit organisms win out, irrespective of complexity. The mathematics of complex vs. simple at the systemic evolutionary level just doesn’t support your analogy within a specific ecosystem, being trumped by relative fitness as it relates to the conditions found in that specific system.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Drinkof,

    So your point is that that new media are more fit? Sorry, I don’t see what you’re getting at.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  14. drinkof permalink
    November 27, 2009

    “So your point is that that new media are more fit? Sorry, I don’t see what you’re getting at.”

    The “math of the argument” of evolution sheds no light, one way or another, on whether the new media are more or less fit in the media niche. Your otherwise interesting and observant post pretty much argues that it does (otherwise there’d be no point in citing Gould, other than the sheer pleasure of it, which I fully recognize). It’s a critical point, as prospective fitness (as opposed to current size or positioning) will obviously determine outcomes.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Drinkof.

    Well, you’re right there. I was just making a mathematical analogy. I don’t think that the biology holds for companies, media or otherwise and certainly not for whole categories of companies. There are stronger and weaker companies in each category and they can switch their traits much more easily than an organism can.

    In terms of fitness, I think the proper analogy would be with practices, not companies They would fit in with Dawkins’ memes quite well (apologies to Gould, who wasn’t a fan of Dawkins or Wilson).

    Sorry, if I wasn’t clear. I only was pointing out the math, which for me was important. It was Gould’s book that got me interested in mathematical Statistics in the first place.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  15. drinkof permalink
    November 27, 2009

    Good points all around.

    Gould is a great source of intellectual constructs and other fodder for observation, needless to say.

    [Reply]

  16. John MacDonald permalink
    November 28, 2009

    Like most things, generalizations are dangerous. Most nets sell their prime time inventory at significant premiums to the rest of their schedule, so it really hinges on what the attributed cost is to the repeats of those originals that comprise much of the schedule, (speaking of cable nets now rather than TV stations). Clearly the marginal cost of these repeats is $0 so on that basis, the fringe dayparts would be more profitable. Conversely and straight line amort of original programming isn’t really fair either as the premiere is clearly much more valuable than the repeats, (and increasingly so in this era of DVRs), so there is a bit of difficulty in calculating true profitability of individual dayparts.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    John,

    Yes, but generally speaking…

    Thanks a lot for sharing your expertise. TV is the one media business I haven’t actually worked in (and Radio is the only other media I haven’t run a business in). So It’s always great to hear from an insider.

    Incidentally, the situation is more clear cut online, but many publishers fail to create “fringe time” and package it effectively. This can be done fairly easily through social content strategies is fairly easy to package effectively.

    Magazine publishers especially need to change their “perfect page” mentality and think more about creating inventory and optimizing it.

    - Greg

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  17. drinkof permalink
    November 28, 2009

    Curiousity duly piqued, I looked up the Gould body of work. Needless to say, I have not come close to reading it all
    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/bibliography.html

    25 in all. I had not read the first one, but then there are 10 in a row which I have, at which point I clearly dropped out. On that …
    1 – I take it that you’d highly recommend Full House?
    2 – This is remarkably similar to my profile of following Dylan’s output. Does that mean Full House is Time Out of Mind?

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Drinkof,

    Yes, I do recommend it. I’m not sure I get the Dylan reference, but if you mean that he wrote after his prime, then I guess it is.

    He mentioned that one of the reasons to write it was when a doctor told him the average life expectancy for his cancer. I forget what it was, but it wasn’t long. He was quite depressed until he realized that the doctor wasn’t clear on what he meant by “average.” He realized that his chances weren’t all that bad.

    He explains his biological argument using lots of non-biological examples like baseball. It’s a very good introduction to data curves and statistics.

    btw. I’m a Gould fan as well, but he isn’t very popular in some circles. There’s also some things not to like, for instance his attacks on E.O. Wilson which turned out to be misplaced.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  18. drinkof permalink
    November 29, 2009

    ” … I’m not sure I get the Dylan reference …”

    An age thing, you’re clearly younger than I.

    Dylan and Gould are, as it turns out, contemporaries, born within months of each other. Dylan had two runs of albums, the first of which changed the face of popular music at a level comparable to the Beatles (Bringing it all Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, among many others), and the second of which was almost as great (Blood on the Tracks, Desire). He then released a series of albums which went almost unnoticed, mostly deservedly so, though in retrospect, there is much there in among the rest. After a health scare (almost died from histoplasmosis), came out with Time Out of Mind and sound track contributions to Wonderboys, winning completely deserved Grammy and Academy Awards, and launching a remarkable run of more recent albums (not counting, I guess, the completely inexplicable recent Christmas album).

    Somewhat parallel path to Gould, with a late career resurgence and return to mainstream acclaim sparked at least in part by intimations of mortality?

    [Reply]

  19. December 1, 2009

    Nice post, Greg. And lots of great comments, too.
    I coined the term “Digital Convergence” back in 1982…”new media” was a direct consequence of that. Part of the problem you are positing is that, unfortunately, both terms have been twisted & mangled over the last 25 years. NEW Media refers to new TYPES of media, NOT same old media-types on different screens, devices or distribution channels. Media refers more to Function than Form…in other words, Classified Ads are functionally the same whether in Newsprint, CraigsList or eBay, 30-minutes SitComs are the same whether over Radio, Broadcast TV, Satellite reruns or On-Demand Cable. The Functionality of the Mediatype to the User/Viewer is the defining feature, not how it is delivered. Truly NEW Media types are rare and far between…Interactivity & Creativity are more important than Diversity & Selectivity. The old “500 channels & nothings on” is not “new media”, neither is On-Demand. Comcast is a “pipeline” Telco, not a Mediaco. New Media is videogames, avatar online communities, blogging, interactive education, realtime online augmentation of live TV programs, social networks, etc. These HAVE taken huge chunks of time away from every other media type.

    Another key point that most observers/analyst have overlooked is that the Total Time of Use for various media is NOT fixed due to 2 factors—more free/transit time and overlapping/multitasking time. Most of the younger generations can’t imagine sitting down to listen to music or watching a TV program…they do it on the go, whilst tweeting, texting, playing, chatting, doing homework, etc. (One the posters above says “tech changes, people don’t”…maybe he doesn’t know anyone under 25. I’m 51 & I’ve even seen 70-year olds who are on SI.com while watching NFL on CBS, iChatting & reading e-mails like my teen age sons!)

    A final point is that the death of Broadcast TV has been greatly exaggerated for decades! While it has shrunk, it still commands the highest shares and biggest ad $s. The Big 4 Networks crappiest shows outpull the best-performing cable shows on a regular basis.

    Lastly, you are dead-on about newspapers. The business consolidators there viewed them as advertising vehicles with AP feeds and syndication rather than journalism & investigative reporting & analysis.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Ken,

    I was wondering who coined that term!

    I think it will take on greater significance in the future. As TV continues to fragment and web sites get better, the more the lines will continue to blur.

    The effect can be seen best in the US. where magazines have been outrageously profitable because it’s the only country in the world where they function as a high coverage medium nationally. Editorial teams in the US are bigger than in the rest of the world by several multiples. The combination of high incomes and a huge population combine to make niche content add up to big numbers.

    Just to take one statistic, in the US, publishers heavily subsidize subscriptions and only about 15% of circulation gets sold on the newsstand (compared to over 50% for almost every other country). They are making so much on advertising, copy sales are meaningless financially!

    It’s the same story with cable and thematic channels. Yet, there still is, and most likely always will be, a demand for content that can reach a mass audience. That’s what network math is all about. The long tail depends on the short head, you can’t really have one without the other.

    One last point about newspapers. Their problem isn’t so much that people don’t want to read them. Circulations have been dropping, but not drastically enough to explain the problems. The real issue is that their business was based on classified advertising and that’s where the internet has killed them.

    The one thing that could bend the curve is that internet players seem to be starting to understand the value of display advertising (Google especially). The truth is that the traditional media model hasn’t really been under attack. “New Media” types have been focused on direct response and haven’t really understood how brands are built. It seems that is starting to change (albeit very slowly).

    In any case, whatever happens it’s sure to be exciting. The media business is full of creative and innovative people. The same ones who have captivated us for decades.

    I love the media business!

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  20. December 3, 2009

    Greg. Very important insights Greg. Your observation on content quality being the key arbiter of people’s viewing choice are very critical to convey in these days of the rush to democratize production of media. One small point however. I’m not sure you evolutionary analogy holds up.

    Gould wrote Full House in conjunction with a work on evolutionary progress called Wonder Life and his intention in Full House was to challenge the common perception that humans are some kind of crowning accomplishment to evolutionary processes. To accomplish this he delves far too deeply into the effects of nature’s variation but effectively lays out its almost haphazard character.

    In Wonderful Life he deals purely with the overall trend in evolution. Gould argues the opposite of what you are attributing to him. His work on the Burgess Shale showed him that life began with far more diversity of basic life forms than we see today. Page 40 “The data of the Burgess Shale falsify this central view of arthropod evolution as a continuos process of increasing diversification.” He saw amazing diversity develop within specific life types but ultimately fewer types survived. Their members diversified to fill increasingly more specialized environmental niches then died out when those niches disappeared or another form overpowered them.

    So I don’t believe he is saying the same thing you are in the rest of your article. I look forward to more of your thoughts on content quality at some point.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Allan,

    Thanks for your comment.

    It’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure it’s valid to my argument. I never read Wonderful life, but obviously organisms got more diverse since the beginning of life, although there’s no reason that the process needs to be continuous. Most probably, it’s actually reversed with so many species dying off.

    However, I wasn’t making the argument that media has to get more diverse due to some cosmic linkage with biological evolution. I was simply making an analogy that what can look like a directional trend might actually be an increase in diversity.

    Sorry, if that wasn’t clear.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  21. December 14, 2009

    Greg,

    You are preaching to choir on this one. My partner and I started Brochures On CD (www.brochuresoncd.com) to replace traditional print media as a means of educating and converting prospects without the high costs traditionally associated with marketing and advertising. These are the high costs that most mom and pop and small businesses just can’t afford to compete on.

    Our feeling is that the average prospect is looking toward digital media as an answer to the “how can I find out more” question and the business owner is looking to digital media to answer the question of “how can I provide more, more easily, for less money”.

    Our experience and instincts tell us that in the coming years the industry of digital media will continue to grow and innovate until it becomes so entrenched with john q. publics daily life that he literally cannot experience life without touching some form of Rich Digital Media.

    Do you agree?

    [Reply]

  22. December 14, 2009

    Interesting article and good thread.

    But a thought on newspapers (that I for one still like). I remember how people said in the 70s that cinemas were dead. Why then do I have to queue now to get in?

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Glen,

    It’s a good point. I’m sure that newspapers will survive in some form, but the classified income is never coming back.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  23. December 15, 2009

    So, let’s say NEW MEDIA (NM) is an old term. Perhaps a more relevant term is DIGITAL MEDIA (DM) and the issue should be where technology is taking us to. I can see Bill Shatner ‘s grinning…
    Because indeed the pressure of NEWNESS is the driving force toward the creation of new sliding technologies or confluent apped up gadgets, to technological realms where no humans have ever been exposed before. Wait a minute… Don’t have the latest model of iPhone? What a moron!
    During the sixties (this shows how old I am) we had in Canada a rather conservative chap who dabbled into the historiography of ideas, literary criticism and technology. Shocking to him was the fact that national and international newspapers could be published locally, a mash up of generic news and local news that are not quite as newsy after publishing. To Marshall McLuhan television made more sense with regard to social alertness, but he also struggled to identify what you Greg are stirring up, “What’s next?”
    He mentioned in one occasion that the telegraph and television should be “sort of together”. You see, he already could taste the internet on the tip of his quasi-Scottish tongue and he had the right palate for that. But the way, before he croaked (attention and media -wise) he became a genius by saying that “the medium is the message”.
    Hyello, we’re almost there. Please buckled up, take your hibernation pill, do your flush, pay the dues to Sir Richard Branson and see you in 2073 (incidentally the other day I saw a sign reading “Happy 20010!”) Here are some of my predictions for you, Greg (my Happy Festivus gift for you):
    - The Internet is now an established social system that by way of legislation is locked at the time of birth onto the majority of passable off-springs to secure the welfare of the universal non-threatening behavior system. (Yes, some of us have read that kind of science-fiction and we didn’t think that the Orwellian times will ever ‘arrive’; anyway, how much and for how long can we rely on Dick Chaney’s wisdom and the freedom to hunt?)
    - We are now behind the vegetarian revolution and made peace with the meat eaters who have been recognized the right to celebrate specific sacrificial rites. They actually do not have the part any animal on the plate, as they simply benefit from the holographic rite of immersive spirituality.
    - The Kyoto Accord is now an ancient crystallographic strategy game like chess, checkers, etc.
    - While way back in 2009 they were talking about Web 3.0 now they talk about the new strategies for balancing clanning; the new forms of life (known as clans) request equal rights with the human derivatives and the articulated mutations . As long as they could be connected to the ASS (Anticipatory Safety System) they are welcome amongst us and could also colonize the oceans.
    - The USF (United Species Forum) will create the allowance for new expressions of life with meditative powers. The shortage of Rishi (only 12 are still available to mind the collective consciousness) may lead to a situation of doubling one of them. The question is which one.
    - Medicine is now almost totally reliant on signifying viruses for anticipating organic outbursts of mutational data.
    - Meritographic spectroscopy will be institutionalized in the next nanoseconds so that the Googlestic tendencies will be prevented while they are still a fresh concept.
    - And finally, the da Vinci human concept will be rehabilitated pending the total compliance to the Inorganic Treaty; as such a human diorama will be created in order to understand Creational Darwinism, the beautifully unleashed sciencedogmancy that started it all.

    [Reply]

  24. Wayne Godfrey permalink
    January 15, 2010

    Greg,
    Again, like others have stated, don’t read too much into data. It is what it is, data and can be manipulated by many forces and slanted into many points of view. I had a circulation director tell me once, we had to always put a yellow car on our magazine cover because of one large uptick in newsstand sales. Doesn’t work that way… there are many forces at work constantly affecting the markets.

    There are many reasons for some of the arbitrary increases in TV viewership in 2008, not least of which was one of the most important and historic presidential elections in this country, the fall of the economy and markets… etc., etc. The news was not good, affecting many people, who then turned to the tube for the latest in the ongoing disasters, polling results and daily dose of heartbreak. It made great fodder (think: soap operas) for the TV industry and they used it deftly.

    Wayne

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Wayne,

    Indeed there were many reasons ofr high TV viewership, but it was the highest ever – the complete opposite of what you would expect if the medium was actually in decline.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

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