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by Susan Stelin

And Seven More Things to Look Forward to in 2007

With so much doom and gloom in the media business – at least in the print media business – you’d think it would be tough to find anyone who thinks optimistically about the future. After all, most industry headlines in 2006 have told a story of declining audiences, softening ad revenue, job cuts, and disappointing earnings.

Then again, the people covering this chaos are the ones who stand to lose their privileged perches if bloggers, 15-year-old filmmakers, and Google continue to reinvent the media business as we know it. The fact is, consumers’ passion for media is alive and well: They’re reading it, viewing it, creating it, and sharing it, perhaps more than ever before. But they’re doing it on their own terms. Whatever else is uncertain, this much is clear about the future of media: Consumers are in control. Here are eight predictions of what’s in store for the media landscape in 2007 and beyond.

Traditional media companies will struggle to maintain their audiences.

It’s no secret that once-dominant media brands are under assault. Readers and viewers are turning to less-established outlets to access news and entertainment, and anyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection can post his own take on world events. Despite high-profile efforts – moving Katie Couric to the evening news, for instance, or creating free newspapers targeting 18- to 34-year-olds – traditional media companies are still struggling to figure out how to maintain their audience in a fragmented, interactive era.

“We really need to think about what it means to be in an interactive environment and have an audience that wants to communicate with us,” says Michael Rogers, a media consultant and “futurist-in-residence” at The New York Times. “When these new ideas come along, things become polarized very quickly – it’s newspapers versus bloggers, user-generated content versus network television.” The challenge for media companies, Rogers says, is to figure out how to “keep the necessary authority that’s taken many decades to establish, but still have our audience participate.”

For Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media and director of the Center for Citizen Media, the solution is to become much more community-focused. “I’m hoping we will see at least one example in the next year of a major media organization doing some significant project where they bring the community into the journalism process at the beginning of the project,” he says. “And I don’t mean by just inviting people to take pictures of hurricanes and their aftermath, but something much deeper than that.”

More business models will emerge to reward independent content creators.

That said, it’s not clear that empowered content creators will want to operate under the umbrella of an established media brand, especially when they can amass large audiences on their own – and in some cases, even profit from their efforts.

John Battelle, a cofounding editor of Wired magazine and founder of The Industry Standard, runs Federated Media, a company that helps bloggers maximize their ad revenues by handling back-office functions like sales, billing, and reporting. FM’s network of bloggers includes sites like Boing Boing, a blog about technology and culture that reaches 2 million readers a month and is on track to earn $1 million in ad revenue this year.

“If you’re looking at starting a magazine and you want to have half a million readers, the capital risk is $10 million,” Battelle says. “What’s shifting is that people who have talent have found that, using tools that are widely available, they can actually aggregate audiences without spending any money at all.”

Another difference is the relationship between FM’s bloggers and marketers. Battelle invites authors to comment on the ads that appear on their sites. A Microsoft ad that incorporated a blogger’s text suggestions performed 60 percent better than the company’s copy. Another ad, for a job site, offered a dialog box where readers could type in frustrations with their current jobs.

“There is an opportunity to think about new ways to market, where you invite the audience in on their terms,” Battelle notes. “You ask permission and enter into a dialogue in your marketing. You can’t do that except in a medium that is, by its nature, a conversation.”

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