Futureview: the coming season of independents

As I face my class every Thursday night at the University of North Texas (“Ethics in a networked world”), I see the dichotomy that is today’s budding journalist. These young people are going to school to “become” professional journalists, yet they are painfully aware of how the industry is collapsing. Their only real hope for work is that they’re technically savvy and they come cheap. Beyond that, though, there’s a dark cloud that has many of them wondering if they’ve chosen the right field.

On the other hand, there is a great sense of value in their knowledge and abilities, especially as it relates to the actual creation of journalism. They don’t need an apprenticeship; they already know all they need to know, so it’s a matter of “just doing it.” In this, I see confidence, although it is somewhat tempered by confusion over a business model. “Go forth and make media,” I tell them at every turn. “Get a day job and let this be your passion, at least for awhile.”

David Carr has captured this energy beautifully in a weekend piece for The New York Times. He writes of the “velvet rope,” in which old school journalists determine who gets in and compares it to the meritocracy that is the Web.

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.

As I’ve written many times before, I think we’re at the dawn of the age of the independent journalist, and this is why I pay so much attention (with clients and students alike) to the concept of personal branding. I think that aggregators of personal brands is the new big media model (can you say Huffington Post?), and that organizations catering to independents by offering legal and other benefits will flourish. We may again see a version of the velvet rope, but for now, it’s truly every person for him or herself in a media land grab unlike history has ever seen.

And I like what Fred Wilson has to say about it:

I believe the move from a velvet rope model to a meritocracy is a good thing and that the new media business we are building in the wake of the old one will be a better media business; leaner, faster, and controlled more by users than media moguls.

I realize that the change is gut wrenching and many have lost jobs and careers in the process. I don’t celebrate that. In fact, I find it upsetting. But I have also watched many reinvent themselves and come out in a better place too. Change is inevitable and we are better off embracing it than fighting it.

As David says, “It’s a wan reminder that all reigns are temporary”. This one will be as well. So let’s get on with it.

Indeed. Let’s get on with it.

Attention techies: new job opportunities ahead

As local media companies continue to figure out that data and the Local Web are their future, I think we’re going to see a new type of employee being added to local media properties, and it’s good news for the tech community. Until now, most of the “good” tech jobs within media have come at the corporate level, where media companies have organized and executed their interactive strategies. But as evidence mounts that the flexibility for revenue generation is at the local property level, publishers and general managers are going to want these types of people in the shop instead of across the country at a centralized corporate entity.

The big change coming is in databases and database management. Media companies have lots of ways to gather data, but turning that into profit is a different matter. Local ad serving across a network also will produce tons of data, but what to make of it? What to do with it? I think you’ll see these people hired within the sales departments, because their skills will be used to create value and generate revenue across many platforms.

There’s also continued demand for help at the Web Master level, and I’m not talking about a guy or gal who sits in the corner and writes content pages for the company. What’s ahead is niche verticals, microsite development, social media and other strategic and tactical uses of programming and design skills, and again, the boss is not going to be satisfied without such skills in the building. Many companies have “gotten lucky” with a local hire here or there, but the demand for these kinds of skills as the local property level is going to continue unabated for many years to come.

Of course, the biggest help media companies need is within sales, for the selling of TV or print ad space is a whole different animal that helping local advertisers with the Web. I fully expect the skill level of account executives will be going up, up, up in the years ahead, as they take on a more consultative role in enabling local commerce via the Web. Sales people with this kind of knowledge can write their own ticket with media companies, and I don’t see that changing in the years ahead.

Everybody knows that print’s future is seriously in jeopardy, and now comes similar thoughts being expressed about broadcasting in the wake of Oprah Winfrey’s announcement that she’s leaving the world of syndicated TV in 2011. The New York Times notes that this and many other factors have observers concerned.

Most analysts and many executives agree that the economic model of broadcast television — which relies much more heavily on advertising than cable — is severely fractured. What they are wondering now is if it is irreparably broken.

Clearly, the future for local media is the Local Web, and that means a more technologically-oriented staff. Techies who’ve cut their employment teeth with start-ups and other Web companies will find themselves increasingly welcomed in the buildings that house traditional media companies.

Find me—the “paperboy route” has changed

Self-confessed news junkie Mrinal Desai offers a fascinating glimpse into his world in a guest post for TechCrunch. Recommended reading for media types who think they’re doing enough to get the word out. Here’s my favorite:

The only screen I care about:

  • well written analysis
  • Unique and timely content/information
  • Thought provoking story telling
  • Connection” with the writer—literally or figuratively from a style perspective
  • Delivery channel. Find me—the “paperboy route” has changed

I love the paperboy route meme and what it says in terms of challenging media companies. It’s not just about multiple channels — it’s very much about what goes into those channels, and that’s something new. Mr. Desai may be an extreme news consumer, but people like him are helping clarify the best ways to deliver news in a hyperconnected world. Note, too, that for him, it’s not just about consumption; it’s very much about passing along as well.

Captioning YouTube videos — a big YES!

Google announced this week that it is adding capitoning to YouTube videos, and this is a very big deal for everybody. Using its own technology, YouTube will create an English script from the audio of videos and make that available for the hearing impaired. In addition, those who have the text of the audio available can upload it in a separate file, and YouTube will add it to the video.

The play is being positioned as a way to help the hearing impaired enjoy YouTube, but there’s another huge upside to this: it will dramatically enhance search capabilities on the video giant. Already the world’s second-largest search engine, this move will only strengthen that position for YouTube. Text associated with videos on YouTube will also have the secondary benefit of boosting search engine optimization with Google (or Bing, or whatever), so it’s incumbent on those who are smart enough to already be using YouTube to start uploading text files as well.

In online sales, it’s ALL about the relationships

relationshipOf all the trends currently percolating in the world of local online revenue, none is more important for local account execs to understand than the growing importance of our relationships with our clients. Every good sales person intuitively knows this already, but the nature of that relationship is changing, and that’s what I want to address today.

We know from all the data that local is where its at in terms of advertising growth over the next five years. This is why Google, Yahoo and a host of other pureplay Internet companies are creating applications that enable commerce at the local level. They want a (big) piece of that pie, if not all of it. What these people understand — perhaps even more than we do — is that they lack an existing relationship with local advertisers, and so there’s an all-out war underway to find and exploit non-advertiser-originated relationships in the name of helping small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) part with their advertising money.

Who has such a relationship? Well, we know about the Yellow Pages people, but how about companies like American Express? That’s right, American Express is leveraging its existing relationships with SMBs to introduce people to companies that are eager to teach businesses how to use the Web to conduct commerce (and take a cut of money spent, of course). This is a booming growth business, and we need to be paying attention, ‘lest some outsider come in and hijack our relationships with clients.

We keep this from happening by doing a better job than they do of offering a host of à la carte services that help SMBs do business via the Web. We become consultants, if you will, teaching everything from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to how to use Google Analytics to how to use YouTube to help their business. We don’t do this for free, of course; we upsell them these services as a part of our portfolio, because we’re no longer just media companies selling advertising; we’re multimedia companies that enable commerce, and if that means helping clients use tools that don’t belong to us, then so be it. Better for us to be mining that relationship than for outside pureplays to come in a steal it.

But this isn’t my job description,” I can hear throughout the land. Perhaps it isn’t, but it should be, and it behooves you to study, study, study, until you know as much as the next guy about how everything works online. Or hire us, and we’ll come in and teach you everything you’ll need to know.

The almost complete lack of understanding about all of this by local merchants is stunning, but it represents perhaps the greatest opportunity for generating serious online revenue at the local level. Somebody needs to teach the community how all this works, and we’d much rather that be a smart local media company than Google.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter)

Damned if you do

nielsenIn the world of local television, Nielsen sits at the crossroads of profit and loss. I’ve even heard smart TV people say that if it doesn’t involve Nielsen, it doesn’t really matter to me. Ratings are everything, and while people are watching more television these days, the ratings for individual programs have been going down. I doubt this is news to anyone.

What is news is how Nielsen is trying to “adjust” to aid local broadcasters in this scenario, announcing recently that, beginning January 1st, they will no longer provide “live only” ratings for TV viewing. “Live” is being replaced with “live plus same day,” to accommodate for the use of DVRs. This has made the TV people very happy, but the advertisers, not so much.

GroupM, which controls a great deal of TV advertising, has sent a harshly worded letter to Nielsen.

Your total disregard for the expressed concerns of local broadcast media buyers, coupled with your adamant refusal to recognize our point of view is totally unacceptable,” writes Goldstein ( Marc Goldstein — president and CEO of GroupM North America and Chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ media policy committee) in a letter sent on Wednesday to Susan Whiting, vice chair of The Nielsen Company.

Rather than maintain Nielsen’s traditional role as an “honest broker” of data and information, you have instead chosen to insert yourselves in the buy/sell process and in so doing, you have sacrificed your credibility.”

Media buyers are upset, because the move will boost ratings by as much as 13%, and that will cost advertisers more money for what they view as bogus numbers.

This is a pretty big deal for broadcasters, who’ve seen revenues slide recently as much as 30–40%. It’s going to get ugly, however, because there’s ample evidence that the people who delay watching live TV skip the ads when playing shows back on their DVRs. Advertisers won’t want to pay for that, and Nielsen has a real conundrum on its hands.