It’s really about people, not (just) technology

This came up in one of my panel discussions last week in Vegas, so I thought I’d repeat it here.

My ideas and concepts all begin with an understanding that the revolutionary changes in media these days are people-driven, not technology-driven. This assumption takes me outside the realm of much of contemporary thought, but I think it’s wise. Technological advancements are just public masturbation unless there’s human energy demanding them, and not just that of the rich and famous. The best ideas are born out of need, and I see that in every corner of the new media world.

Even Michael Powell’s “application separation” tipping point wasn’t simply the idea of a guy with a PhD in the back room. The concept of separating a communications application from its infrastructure constraints came from increasing demands on pricing in the telecommunications industry. Those demands came from consumers who were tired of getting ripped off by the monopolistic demands of a few companies with phone lines and repair trucks. You can argue that technology opened the door, but the knocking was from people.

This differentiation is important, I believe, because it forces me to approach what’s taking place with respect and an open mind. If people are demanding change, then we ought to be asking ourselves why, instead of fighting or ignoring the technology. This is why I feel so strongly that brand marketing and the belief that our brands will protect us are both dangerously short-sighted and self-destructive. The demand for change implies something wrong with the former, and we need to understand what that is before we go off trying to sell some more of it.

Wherever I go in the television world, I encourage stations to do research with people who don’t get their news from TV anymore. George Will wrote that the “combined viewership of the network evening newscasts is 28.8 million, down from 52.1 million in 1980. The median age of viewers is 60. Hence the sponsorship of news programming by Metamucil and Fixodent.” We’ve given up trying to reach the others. Why?

Before we can design strategies to reach these people, we need to learn a few things from them:

  1. Why did they leave?
  2. What are their information needs?
  3. Where are they finding those needs met?
  4. What can we do to meet those needs?

Invariably, I find that people left traditional media forms because they were (and felt) increasingly captive to ideas and techniques they found repugnant. I’ve written previously about news teases and how people see through what we’re doing. Who wants to be “teased?” And yet we continue down that road.

As I’ve said so many times here before, the problem for local television today isn’t revenue, it’s audience. The time we spend focusing on revenue is time we could and should be spending trying to fix the problem. Everything else will fall into place after that.

The money IS there. Dave Morgan, Founder and CEO of Tacoda, the online contextual advertising company, thinks that contextual ads should be priced well above other media ads, because they deserve it.

Great content, loyal audiences, and a strong media brand should command a premium rate. Publishers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. They must point out to media buyers that online audience numbers and online ad views are real, unlike TV ratings or print circulation, which only measure distribution and have little connection to actual ad views. On that basis, online ad CPMs should be valued at least three times more than their offline counterparts.
One of the reasons I so strongly react to the idea that this is all just another fad is that I accept that the energy is coming from people. People know what they want and like and increasingly technology is giving it to them. We would do well to pay attention.

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