The demise of traditional television is a folklore.”

So says Jason Hirschhorn, senior vice president of digital media for MTV in a News.com article on the internet and the future of television. He added, “Viewers want more interactive TV, but traditional TV won’t die. Still the best way to reach an audience is through the TV.”

While I certainly agree that TV is still the best way to reach a mass audience (for how long?), I don’t share Hirschhorn’s confidence that traditional TV isn’t on its eventual way out. Perhaps it’s a matter of degrees, but — and this article does a fine job of pointing it out — the public’s appetite for à la carte viewing is best not underestimated. The truth is we just don’t know, because the industry has steadfastly refused to let it happen. They’ve got too much to lose, but some content creators are positioning themselves. Marguarite Reardon, who wrote the c/net article seems to agree:

But it’s clear that content providers like Comedy Central are starting to position themselves for a transition in the market. Comedy Central knows that nearly 85 percent of its viewers have broadband access and tend to be early adopters of technology, so it’s not far-fetched to assume that some of these viewers could also experiment with Internet-based television.

We will go where ever the viewers are,” Hirschhorn added. “Right now they are in both places—on the Net and on cable and satellite networks. We don’t believe in shutting people off. We aren’t going to react like the music industry, who has been trying to put the genie back in the bottle.”

I believe we ARE headed for an unbundled media world and that those who make preparations today will be rewarded downstream. While the suits debate all of this, young people continue to make their own demands about the way it’ll be in the future. They’re also increasingly making their own media, unbundled and available to anybody. They are the new pig in the python, and we can’t forget them as we examine the overall media picture.

More people watching video clips online

According to new research from comScore Media Metrix, traffic to television related Websites has jumped now that the new season is underway. Visits to TV-related sites grew by 8 percent to 69.3 million unique visitors–from August’s 64.4 million visitors, according to a report in Media Daily News:

As broadband has become more popular, Web sites have recently started offering more TV-related fare. For instance, Yahoo! this year streamed the debut of the WB series “Supernatural,” while Google offered the first episode of UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris.” At CBS, the Web site features blogs from shows like “CSI: Miami,” “Survivor: Guatemala,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “Ghost Whisperer.”
Clearly, the dawn of Internet-delivered video is upon us, and this is a good news/bad news thing for broadcasters. The good news is opportunity — a new mechanism for revenue and meeting the information and entertainment needs of our communities. The bad news is that it further erodes the network-broadcaster relationship by allowing program creators to deliver their goods directly to consumers.

Mainstream versus the bloggers, us versus them

Bloggers and mainstream journalists need to come to agreement that they are not each other’s enemies and that the gap between them is more related to economics and the insistence of legacy media companies to milk the status quo than it is to whether one is after the other’s job or calling. It’s certainly not personal

This theme — that the bickering and sniping is misdirected and destructive — is being presented in the wake of the Online News Association (ONA) annual conference. Susan Mernit (brilliant light that she is) surveyed the blogosphere at the end of the conference and found little that was helpful:

Susan sez: Maybe it’s because I work with people in the industry, but I think most of the smarter people in online news grasp the sea changes going on–my sense is that the problems are not (just) about the people, but about the profitable, hard to refocus legacy businesses called print media that publishers are loathe to abandon till the money goes straight down the drain.

Also, it’s ironic to see some of the condescension now flowing the other way.

She’s spot on. I work everyday with people eager to move the rock forward but are held back by the corporate requirements of public companies. The creative energy is there, but it’s generally stifled.

This theme was echoed in comments to Rafat Ali’s piece yesterday (referenced below) by John Granatino, Vice President / News and Operation at the Providence Journal:

Tried-and-true methods of publishing are still making excellent money and profits, but audience interest in declining. Thankfully, some entrepreneurially minded individuals are trying new ideas and building new products. Over time, many of their best ideas will prove out in the marketplace and traditional publications will adopt those products and methods. Many of the worst ideas will die, but at least they were tried. The ideas that thrive will bring huge rewards to their creators, as we’ve already seen in the latest round of M&A activity. This is a story as old as business itself.
While I agree with John that there are individuals within the mainstream trying to innovate, I just cannot believe that real change will come from within. This is not some wild belief that I carry; it’s based on my day-to-day experience in dealing with people in media companies, especially those in high places. The essential problem is that there just isn’t time for the “story as old as business itself.” We cannot play “business as usual” in the face of these types of disruptive technologies.

The constant anthem expressed in this blog is that collapse will come upon the mainstream like a thief in the night and that one day soon, these same high placed executives will wake up and everything will be gone. You may think I’m overstating that (because, after all, they’re still making a lot of money), and that’s fine. I think what’s happening in our culture is far bigger than most people realize and that our economy is a lot weaker than most suspect. I would love to be proven wrong.

I have been guilty of flaming the fires that separate, and I accept any criticism that comes along about that. In real life, I’m much more into bringing people together than in dividing people. The anger and passion expressed here isn’t intended to be personal. But mass media is dying, and I have a lot of friends embedded in the bowels of the ship who deserve a seat on the lifeboats. Every day that goes by in which legacy media companies refuse to invest time, energy and resources into new business models is another day with the lifeboats firmly attached.

So while some mainstream writers take potshots at bloggers (e.g. Forbes), and bloggers bite back with their own brand of condescension, the collision course with the iceberg remains locked into the ship’s steering mechanism.

Perhaps the real enmity is between those with eyes to see this and those without, regardless of their position in the media world. This, I think, is what’s being expressed by Rafat, Jarvis and others when they lament the lack of passion for change in the agendas of conferences such as the ONA.

Cory Bergman’s take

Where’s the passion?

Rafat Ali surveys the landscape at the Online News Association’s (ONA) annual conference and finds a few things missing.

Above all, where’s the entrepreneurship? The Web 2.0 thing, while may have been over hyped, at least has something at the core of it: innovation, on the cheap, and available to all. These are people who believe, and believe me, that’s half the battle won. Why is that mentality not coming to journalism, and specifically online journalism? Why isn’t more startup culture being encouraged at media companies? Yes, they’ll start blogs on their site, but beyond that, what? Why aren’t journalists being encouraged to be entrepreneurs, and the other way around? When will we have our version of the young-out-of-school-entrepreneurs amongst us?
Isn’t the passion of creation the most basic of drivers? Where is that?
Rafat, these are people who, in many cases, only partially believe. Before I continue, let me say that I have the greatest respect for anybody who’s trying to figure all this stuff out, and that includes the ONA. However, I’ve had a few “exchanges” with this group that have left me confused and wondering, because as much as the organization “gets it,” there are members with loud voices who view online news through offline glasses. These are the folks who feel most threatened by the democratization of media and make the most noise about standards and ethics, questioning whether anyone who observes and reports can rightly call themselves a journalist. These are the folks who will not let go of the elitism inherent in the old media model, whose online distribution is simply another mass media system. These are the folks who harp and complain about the reach of A-listers and demand credentials before permitting a seat at the table.

Unlike you, Rafat, I don’t think they view this as “the most exciting time to be an online journalist, at the most exciting time in the media sphere.” I think they’re scared shitless of anything they can’t command and control and profoundly confused by what they view as chaos.

Forbes and the bloggers

Once again, Florida airports continue to impress me with free WiFi. I’m in Tampa on business (now homebound), and it’s nice to drop an entry in the bucket. Every airport should have free wireless connectivity.

I wanted to make a quick reference to the Forbes’ article that’s getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere today. The thing basically trashes blogs, to which I ask, “What do you expect?” The democratization of media isn’t considered a good thing amongst the business status quo, so these kinds of broadsides shouldn’t surprise anybody.

Meanwhile, Mark Glaser writes a fascinating story about bloggers in India taking on a business school’s ad claims. The school was a huge advertiser in mainstream media, but the bloggers weren’t bound by the potential diversion of ad revenues. The school tried to muscle the bloggers, and eventually wound up with egg on its face.

This is why the story in Forbes shouldn’t surprise anybody.

Changes at CBS News mean more of the same

I don’t know Sean McManus, but I suspect he’ll do well at the helm of CBS News. The problem is that his pedigree in sports suggests there’s no way he’ll step outside the box of sameness. Consider what I wrote in an April 2004 essay called News as a Sporting Event. In this essay, I made the argument that during my lifetime, news leads had become obsessed with blame, much in the way color commentators quickly find blame during live sporting events. This, I wrote, was a part of perpetrating the Modernist dream that everything in life is cause and effect and to position ourselves as knowledgeable and important. What’s the difference, I asked, between “The Lakers lost, because Kobe didn’t perform up to par” or “Howard Dean lost, because the Internet didn’t perform the way he hoped it would?“

Nowhere is this type of news more prevalent than in the coverage of our political world. An election is a natural sporting event, albeit one that lasts for months or even years. A Presidential election is like the NCAA basketball tournament on steroids. We have an elimination tournament in the form of primaries that culminates in the championship game in November. The sidebar political stories contribute to the overall story. For example, a New York Times piece on the recent 9/11 hearings carried this headline, “Evaluating the 9/11 Hearings’ Winners and Losers.”

Most that we classify as news begins with an event. I was taught long ago that the event was the first day lead and that reaction was the second. Attempts at understanding were reserved for later, but today, the “perspective” stories often shove aside the others as news organizations compete for “king of the know-it-all-mountain” status and the coveted marketing niche of “they help me make sense of the news.” Who, what, why, where and when have become the servants of how and how come. Blame is now the first day lead. Technology and speed have enabled this occurrence, but it is our marketing that has provided the mandate to turn curiosity into conclusion in the name of cause and effect.

This is why I predict CBS will do well at producing a better version of the same.

Andrew Heyward may have totally screwed up the Rathergate business, but he appears to be the only one who actually learned from the event. Rather is busy trying to rescue his mountaintop reputation, while Mary Mapes is about to come out with a book that trashes Heyward in the name of making herself look the victim. Heyward, meanwhile, has used what he must have known were his last days at the helm of CBS News to talk about the inherent problems of traditional, mainstream news. It was remarkable to hear him talk of objectivity and multiple truths a few weeks ago in New York. Frankly, if Les Moonves had any balls, he’d let Heyward explore the new world he envisions instead of bringing in a sports-bred gunslinger to further the misdirection of Modernist news.

Heyward says he’s going to stay involved in the business of media. I think he’ll find more people interested in following him than he might expect.