The Future of Media

Post ImageLast session of the day is all about media and it’s future, particularly that of newspapers. Participating is Mathew Ingram, Angus Frame, Tomer Strolight, and Tomi Poutanen. Here some notes from the session (my comments in italics):

  • Why is Craigslist successful? Because newspaper classifieds are restrictive and expensive. Apparently the site steals $50 million of advertising from newspapers a year.
  • Angus says you need to get people to change their understanding of what the daily paper is. A big change was adding breaking news to globeandmail.com, so that the paper isn’t only publishing once every 24 hours. The next goal is to have the Globe understand that control has to change; allowing readers to comment on articles, for example.
  • Angus says its tough to get this new kind of thinking into the daily activities of a newsroom such as The Globe’s.
  • Tomer says that while not everyone is on board with doing things online, the organization is. This means they (Toronto Star) are doing things like a Craigslist competitor.
  • Mathew wonders if its easier for Yahoo to become a new media organization. Tomi says absolutely. Yahoo doesn’t create a lot of content, but works to make sure the infrastructure is right. The vision is to enrich peoples lives by allowing them to find news, share it, etc. Yahoo is by no means a traditional media company.
  • Yahoo has a ton of partnerships with publishers, because they drive a lot of traffic to them. Tomi says things are changing, you can no longer just print Reuters articles and call it a newspaper. Angus says what’s being missed in the acceptance of huge change, going from the newspaper as a whole as a product to just the importance of a single article that might appear on Yahoo News.
  • Angus says aggregators are going to be the dominant stop for people looking for information. So you have to make it worthwhile for people to go to The Globe. The strengths for The Globe are journalists, and the audience, which provides a unique opportunity. You can’t aggregate the package.
  • Tomer says that now the publishers have information such as which stories are most popular, what are people following, etc. He says the change is unbundling, so newspapers need to find new ways to make money.
  • In a lot of ways, traditional media was about pushing stuff out there. Comments, voting, patterns, etc gives much more data than previously possible, so writers can find out instantly if people liked their articles.
  • Tomer says that in the past, you could have an entire career in journalism writing stuff that no one ever read and be none the wiser. That doesn’t happen anymore, due largely to the availability of so much more data.
  • Tomer says you have to find a unique value proposition, and not trying to change the newspaper into commodity content. Newspapers have to get leaner to meet people’s time constraints.
  • Angus says it is very common for publishers and writers to underestimate the intelligence of their readers, who might have something to add. Writers shouldn’t shy away from that opportunity!
  • Angus says that the online reader is very similar to the offline reader, the newness of the medium has worn off. One is not really more or less tech-savvy than the other.
  • There’s no doubt about it, people go to where they feel the information is the best, according to Angus.
  • What about registration for newspapers, even if it was free? Tomer says it was a lose-lose situation for everyone. After registration was removed, traffic rose by 50% after three months.
  • Are newspapers moving towards reporting or opinion? Angus says everyone is trying to add something more of value, so yes, a lot more opinion as part of the drive to make something unique. There is more opinion on everything now than there ever has before.
  • Yahoo highlights the content that is most popular among readers. Yahoo is also more editorial while Google’s competing news product is entirely algorithmic.
  • Any thought to becoming a news aggregator? Angus says no, The Globe is a niche player in the Canadian media market. The idea of partnering and linking to content sources that complement what the Globe already offers is the main change to go after. Tomer says there’s no way to compete with Yahoo and Google, so why would you become an aggregator?
  • Angus hopes the whole idea of a walled garden is long dead.

The Future of Media

Post ImageHere are some notes from the first keynote of the day, featuring Om Malik and a discussion between Om and Mark Evans of the National Post. Items in italics are my thoughts and comments. They are discussing the future of media:

  • Kind of cool, two green couches up on stage for this conversation.
  • Can the old world of media survive, and if so, how do they adopt? Om says he doesn’t see the difference between old world and new world at all. As long as the information is delivered.
  • Traditional media faces challenges because some people simply shouldn’t be in the traditional publishing business Om says. He thinks it would be impossible to replace things like the NY Times or National Post or WSJ.
  • Are bloggers journalists? Om says people in that debate have too much time on their hands.
  • Mark says a lot of newspapers are still struggling with the online business model. If they haven’t been able to embrace the web, how can they embrace blogs and podcasts and things? Om says if they don’t, they face a bigger problem, which is a whole new generation that only consumes their news online (sounds a lot like me).
  • Om says that Forbes.com is really saving Forbes’ bacon right now.
  • The hundreds of newspapers that will disappear are probably bad newspapers, Om thinks. It won’t be papers like the New York Times – “that said, I’ll be glad to see a lot of newspapers go.”
  • Om says blogs are killing off the trade press more than anything.
  • Mark asks about television, watching what you want when you want? Om says the mainstream market doesn’t really care, there haven’t been that many Tivos sold. He says TV is still a passive medium, people just want to sit there and watch whatever’s on, for the most part. Regular people don’t care about Tivo’s.
  • Apparently Mark Evans likes The Sopranos, and has a bunch recorded on his PVR, ready to watch. I’ve still never seen an episode of that show.
  • Mark asks about the Three C’s – credibility, content, and cash.
  • Om says getting discovered is harder than attaining credibility. People can make judgement calls if they find the blog. Credibility comes from the content you create, and in the end, people recognize what’s good and what’s bad.
  • Mark thinks newspapers can survive in local markets, for local advertisers. Om thinks there is an opportunity for local-focused startups.

And now, some questions from the floor.

  • Are we underestimating the capacity of the day-to-day world of print, where you basically have a free license to spam?
  • What about Craigslist? Om says the newspapers are up against free classifieds, but otherwise, Craigslist is a different kind of beast.
  • “When information is free, the only thing of value is point of view.” Do you think that’s a helpful paradigm? Om says context is more valuable, you have to put everything in context, and most of the time, people fail to do this. People confuse opinion with context. Om says context is the single biggest thing missing in the news today.
  • Imagine a future in which you get the news on a digital paper. How far are we from that world? Om has no clue.
  • About the economics of blogging – how is one to establish themselves financially? (Boris Mann beside me says, join a network, next question! Agreed.) Om says he is part of Federated Media, which is an aggregated network. What we need is a new kind of advertising paradigm. Om says advertising is seriously lagging in the blogging space. Mark remarks that many reasons people blog now are not financial, they just want to get their point of view out there.
  • Question about net neutrality. Om says from a blog publishing point of view, its not much of an issue. Mark wonders if it is a way for traditional media to protect themselves online, because they can pay. Om says there is room for independent media, they don’t need to be streaming high def!
  • Question about transitioning from tradtitional newspaper to online. Om says lifestyle, sports, and business support the paper. In the online world, you can finetune things, maybe using AP or Reuters for international news instead of your own team. Om says the concept of magazines is not going away anytime soon.
  • How do we effectively change that paradigm of advertising. I can turn off my ads on a website using Firefox – how do advertisers deal with that? Om: Internet Explorer, 85% market share. I would say that since Google pretty much owns Firefox, and their business is advertising (not search!), I wouldn’t expect it to get any worse than it already is. Om says he can’t believe the number of people that click on his Google ads. Mark: “who are these people?!”
  • Om says the blogs that provide value with stick around, and the ones that don’t will go away. “Every user comes with their finger poised on the back button.” Boris remarks that RSS hasn’t come up once yet. How many people in this audience visit Om’s blog on the web? Probably most use RSS.
  • Ah what do you know, the next question comes up, and Om answers with RSS. The question was about monetizing information, can we actually do it? Om says in reality, there is a fundamental change happening, with a new format of information distribution and consumption, and the business model needs to be worked out.
  • What does it look like in three years? Om says it will look pretty similar. NYTimes or WSJ might hire some bloggers, but things aren’t moving as fast as people think. You will see the biggest media experiment.
  • Boris gets to ask a question: he says he only uses RSS, he never visits the websites. Blogs are conversations, Boris can’t have a conversation with the National Post! So no question, but just comments, but he made a good point, and Om agrees. Om says RSS is a challenge, but its a huge opportunity. Whoever can figure out a new advertising model right now stands to make a lot of money. Mark says old media is failing miserably at creating a conversation.
  • Om says Web 2.0 is a new way of thinking, not some fancy new javascript bits. Is it really all about advertising? I think there’s so much more to Web 2.0.
  • Seems people get their news mostly from the same services. Are you concerned about how that affects the conversation? Om says the real intelligence of blogs is in the comments.

Not surprisingly, this session went slightly over time.