The Media Company of the Future

Posted on June 8, 2010 by Tony Uphoff

At some point "New Media" is no longer new. "Emerging Media" emerges. Describing the revolutionary trends that have been driving the media industry over the last decade as either "new" or "emerging" is inaccurate and misleading. Media companies have either embraced and harnessed digital platforms and technology or they haven't. The Internet revolution has resulted in 4 types of media companies today: The Dead, The Wounded, The Surviving and The Thriving. So what attributes best define a thriving media company? What will they be in the media company of the future?

We were recently asked by American Business Media to share some of our experiences and thoughts on the media company of the future at their recent San Francisco meeting. While I gave the presentation at the meeting, the ideas shared were the collective wisdom of the great minds in UBM TechWeb and our sister companies within UBM. Here is the presentation in slide format as well as a narrative. Let us know your thoughts and feel free to add to this list.

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So as we embark on the future, a bit of history is needed to set the stage. The "Big Bang Event" in media happened in August of 1995. Since this date, there has been nearly $1 Trillion dollars in value destruction in general media. And 15 years later the revolution is still taking place. August of 1995 was when Netscape went public and while Netscape was ultimately not a survivor of the revolution they helped to create, they ignited a shift in the center of gravity in media. Certainly for publishers that shift was from print to digital. This market transition also led the shift from media platforms to platforms of engagement however. While publishers talked a good game about audience engagement and understanding, they were for the most part totally unprepared for this transition. Models flipped from push to pull. Reach took on a new meaning and web metrics became the new math of media. Ultimately this Web based transition drove three rapid eras in media:
  • The Reach Era: The first phase of online media was defined by “Reach”. Value was based on unique visitor reach and the page views generated.
  • The Search Era: The second phase was defined by ”Search”, where value was derived by optimizing content to drive search results.
  • The Media-Application Era: We are now officially in the “Media-Application” era, where value is created by engaging audiences around applications of content and services that become part of their regular media consumption.
So with this bit of history, how about that media company of the future? Here are the 15 attributes that we feel define the successful media company of today as well as the media company of the future:
  1. Content Will Still Be King. Again. But Applications Will be the Power Behind the Throne: In a post search world, there is a flight to content quality, trusted brands and networks. The growth of the social graph is a clear example of this trend. Understanding how to best harness media applications as engagement platforms and distribution networks will be key however. iPad anyone?
  2. UI/UEX Will Matter. A Lot: The first phase of Internet "media" has been abysmal in User Interface design and User Experience. Google, Facebook, the iPad and other examples teach us that the UI matters and will actually increase in importance. The need to focus on UI/UEX is not exclusive to web based media either. Magazines, live events and other content deliverables also need to deliver increasing value in their UI and UEX.
  3. Live Media Plays a Central Role: Scarcity drives all markets and aggregating high demographic audiences together in a live format is an increasing scarcity in a fragmented media world. The natural progression of social media and integrated media is live media. The media company of the future will have live media as a "natural" core.
  4. All Access. All the Time. One Subscrption. All Devices. All Environments: Audiences today want a frictionless registration and subscription process, single sign on functionality and the ability to access all of their media, in all it's formats, across all devices. This is rapidly moving from a "want" to a "demand".
  5. Search Will Matter Less Than Content and UI/UEX:People are far more interested today in what trusted brands, and the people in their social graph have to say than they are in "searching" the web. There are a generation of web media brands that have optimized content to game out search engines. As a result they are a hodge podge of search friendly language, terms and headlines, with limited abililty to sustain an organic audience.
  6. Integrated Media is the Standard: We have lived in an integrated media world since the advent of smoke signals and drawings on cave walls. Today however integrated media is the norm, with digital, print, online and live events, intersecting in increasingly innovative and valuable ways. If you don't help your audiences integrate their media, someone else will.
  7. Media is Technology. The Moment of "Singularity" Has Happened: If you are running a media company and don't have a CIO as one of your direct reports, hire one. Now.
  8. Curation is Editing. Editing is Curation: User generated content is great. Until it's not. Not all users are experts. Not all experts are articulate. Editors today need to curate great content and that includes curating user generated content.
  9. Media Platforms to Revenue Platforms:Media companies need to shift from focusing on media platforms to focusing on revenue platforms. From marketing to marketing services to business information; these are revenue platforms that then determine what media platforms most effectively deliver these services to audiences and marketers.
  10. Everybody Sells Everyday. Everybody Writes Everyday: Regardless of your role; from content, to marketing, to sales, to development, everyone serves customers; be they audiences or marketers. As a result everyone "sells" everyday. At the same time, the best companies use a version of crowd sourcing. Harnessing the best ideas and collective thinking of the group and sharing this knowledge. For this to work, everybody has to "write" everyday and this intelligence needs to be captured, stored and produced in ways that allow people to leverage it.
  11. Paid. That's Right, Paid: People always have and always will pay for high quality content. Having paid content as a significant part of a media business creates a core understanding of your audiences that helps guide all aspects of the business.
  12. Regionally Focused. Globally Connected: All markets are inherently regional. Focus on the regions that matter and serve those regions locally. Then focus on connecting to global resources and partners that allow you to serve other regions. Then repeat. Also remember, just because it works in the US does not mean it will work in another region of the world.
  13. No Debt. Or VERY Manageable Debt: The level of value destruction in general as well as business to business media has been and continues be shocking. Even with the recent debt restructurings of some of the Private Equity backed media companies, many are still carrying way too heavy debt loads, restricting their ability to build sustainable businesses. To assume that the crushing debt loads that many companies have operated under hasn't caused irreparable brand, cultural and company damage is ludicrous.
  14. Less is More: Look to scale up first. Not out.
  15. Same as its Always Been. Great Media Company = Great Team of People: The value in media brands and businesses are in the teams that create, run and drive them. During a time of tumultuous change, with the added complexity of a global recession, it's not always easy to attract, retain and develop talent. It is the key however and as hard as it can be at times, should always be the primary focus.
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