News, media & communications
Media trends for 2007+
One of the problems with trends - and trend lists in particular - is that they often obscure the fact that the writer has absolutely no idea what is going on. Instead they are lists of things that have recently happened which the writer supposes might continue to happen into the future. Media trends are no exception. According to lists of media trends (including my own) we are entering year two of a revolution whereby user created content (from 'citizen journalists' and 'citizen reviewers') is radically altering the media landscape.Moreover, the speed at which the media are converging is intensifying and the separation between 'traditional' and 'new' or 'social' media is becoming increasingly meaningless. In the midst of all this, hard-copy newspapers will continue to experience falls in circulation whilst network television will start to look increasingly anachronistic as information and multi-media entertainment moves online and goes mobile. Indeed, the phrase 'the media' will itself become almost meaningless because everyone (and every company) will become a part producer and part-consumer of media. Or at least that's the theory.One immediate problem is that consumers now expect all Internet content to be free, which creates something of an issue for anyone wanting to create revenue or heaven forbid profit from digital content. As any budding economist will tell you, value is a by-product of scarcity so to create revenue content must be made scarce. This may actually happen. One trend that hasn't received much attention is the flight to quality.In short there is too much mediocrity and rubbish online so people are seeking out - and paying for - quality information and entertainment. One implication of this could be a flight to trusted brands - and journalists- for no reason other than consumers want their news from a trusted source and want reviews from people that are actually expert in their field. This is not to say that user generated content has no value and no future but it is hyped and we are all losing our sense of proportion. Equally the importance of personalisation and aggregation is, in my view, over-played. Sure we sometimes like things 'our way' but at the same time we don't want lowest common denominator aggregation or personalisation, especially if it takes up too much of our time to get it or it means that we miss the bigger picture. As the writer JG Ballard once said, "If enough people predict something, it won't happen".
Ref: Various including The Guardian (UK) 20 December 2006, 'We all deserve an award this year says Time magazine. But what's so great about ordinary people',
M. Berlins. www.guardian.co.uk , New Statesman (UK) 18 December 2006,
'Media: Review of the year', P. Wilby, www.newstatesman.com
Seeking Alpha (US) 3 January 2007, 'Top 10 media predictions for 2007',
A. Karbasfrooshan, http://mediaseekingalpha.com
Entrepreneur (US) 'Get hip to the top trends of 2007', K. Edelhauser. www.entrepreneur.com
Search words: media trends, user generated content, customer co-creation
Trend tags: open-source
Delivering tomorrow's newspaper
It is a paradox that whilst national newspapers' circulations continue to fall globally, local newspapers continue to enjoy a new found renaissance. The Fort Myers News-Press (circulation 89, 283) is a case in point. This is a local Florida newspaper owned by Gannett Inc (the owner of USA Today) and what makes the paper a bit different is that it is a website first and a newspaper second. Moreover it is hyper-local. National and foreign news coverage is limited and resources are focussed on local communities and issues. This means that the paper reports on classroom sizes in local schools and local traffic problems. Whether this is ultimately a good idea from a 'world view' perspective is not known but it seems to be working in terms of local readership.The paper also employs what are known as mobile journalists ('mojos') that don't have an office or a desk and spend their time on the road photographing and writing about local events. Content is updated to the website directly by these mojos and is supplemented by a band of crowdsourced 'reader experts' - retired accountants, policemen and government bureaucrats - that study information and provide commentary on anything and everything. Another challenge to traditional journalistic wisdom is that the barriers between the editorial and commercial sides of the business have been torn down. For instance, journalists regularly accompany sales people when they visit advertisers because the journalist will have better knowledge of certain sections or features. As a result of these and other initiatives the paper's web traffic has grown from 58,000 visitors per week in 2002 to 140,000 today while visits to the paper's various 'micro-sites' are up 106% over the last 12 months.
Ref: Washington Post (US) 4 December 2006, ' A newspaper chain sees its future, and it is online and hyper-local', F. Ahrens. www.washingtonpost.com
Search words: newspapers, journalism, local
Trend tags: localisation
Source integrity: *****
Searching for success
Google is undoubtedly a significant force in searching for data on the Internet but it is hardly the only game in town. Moreover, there is no reason on earth that another upstart start-up cannot pull off exactly what Google did. After all, switching search engines costs absolutely nothing and takes just one click. Consider, for example Yandex.com. If you haven't heard of it (and I'm betting you haven't) this is probably because you live in the wrong country. Yandex is a Russian search engine and 'owns' 60% of all Internet searches in Russia. Google, in contrast, has just 8%. Local search is a rapidly growing segment of Internet search and it is growing because people are very often looking for local information. If you want a dry cleaner in Moscow Google isn't much help. Thus search engines in Russia, China, the Middle East, India and Europe are all growing thanks in part to the localised or specialised community nature of their listings.In China, for example, another search engine you've probably never heard of - Baidu - 'owns' over 60% of the local market. Another issue for Google is that text based searching may be overtaken by video, audio or multi-media searching as the Internet shifts towards multi-media content. Admittedly, the chances of a small start-up going global before giants like Google buy them or knock them out is slim, unless of course their technology is so superior and simple to use that word of mouth knocks the likes of Google out first.
Ref: Red Herring (US) 25 December 2006, 'Searching new media', J. Schenker. www.redherring.com
Search words: Google, search, search engines, localisation
Trend tags: localisation
Source integrity: ****
Social Networks for children
The average age of people with a profile on MySpace is perhaps not what you'd expect. Over 50% are aged 35 plus. This fact will no doubt please various advertisers and both adults and teenagers are now well catered for on social networking sites. This of course leaves older people and young kids and the latter are the new growth market. Disney.com gets over 24 million unique visitors per month and Disney Extreme Digital is the site's social networking element. Meanwhile, MTV has Neopets (which it acquired for US $160 million back in 2005). If you're not familiar with this site it reaches 6.6 million unique visitors every month and allows children to be 'represented' by virtual pets, which in turn communicate and play games.One additional feature - which is either deeply alarming or wonderful depending on your point of view - is what's called 'ultimate safe chat'. This is a library of pre-determined words, phrases and sentences that allow users to communicate without really saying anything. It is communication devoid of substance or real content - a kind of Newspeak for the twenty first century. 'Standard safe chat' is liberal in comparison. This allows users to communicate freely by typing words and phrases but intelligent software automatically removes any swear words or personal details whether they are spelt correctly or not. Last year Wal-Mart created a similar social networking site, this time with a bank of parental controls. Not surprisingly, the site failed to appeal to anyone other than anxious offline parents.
Ref: The Business (UK) January 2007 'Youngest online chatters become firms' pet projects', D. Crow.Seeking Alpha (US) 3 January 2007, 'Top 10 media predictions for 2007', A. Karbasfrooshan, http://mediaseekingalpha.com
Search words: social networks, children
Source integrity: ***
According to Technorati.com there are 55 million blogs on the Internet and "some of them HAVE to be good". The quote is from someone called Matt but we are not told who Matt is, which is in some ways indicative of the phenomenon of blogging as a whole. There are certainly a lot of blogs being written and some of them actually get read. For example, in Iran there are no less than 700,000 active blogs and Farsi is the tenth most popular language for blogs in the world - or at least someone, somewhere once said that it was. This, in many ways is a good thing. It is an example of how 'citizen journalism' is democratising the media and comes at a time when people do not trust the mainstream media. For example, a poll in Australia recently found that 75% of people agreed with the statement "media organizations are more interested in making money than in informing society". But wasn't it ever thus? Most blogs are drivel. They are the illiterate rantings of insecure teenagers or exhibitionist adults with nothing better to do with their time than to complain about something or share their dull lives with everyone else. Moreover, most of the so-called comment is in fact opinion bereft of any research, reflection or originality. Worse, writing well takes time, which in term means that people need to get paid not to do something else.In this sense blogging is a world away from writing. Most blogs do not articulate an idea or a perspective. Most simply react to what someone else has said which is not news and will not last or stand the test of time. Mind you its not all bad news. One of the redeeming features of bloggers is that their biases are more ore less transparent and some blogs are actually rather readable. We are also starting to witness the trend of mainstream journalists defecting to quality online only alternatives. For example, last year two star reporters 'defected' from the Washington Post to start a subscription website called The Politico. Their timing may be rather good. In the UK a poll recently found that only 19% of Britons trust the media (compared to 24% trusting politicians) and I'm sure surveys in the US would uncover a broadly similar trend.
Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus) 20-21 January 2007, 'Bloggers of the world, unite', A. Loewenstein. www.smh.com.au also 13-14 January 2007, 'Fourth estate fouls its own nest', J. Button. www.smh.com.au
Search words: citizen journalism, blogs, blogging, bloggers, online
Source integrity: ***