Media 2.0 101: It’s about money, not content

BBC Home Duty Editor and blogger Neil Henderson posted an apologetic over the weekend about why new media will never replace the old. It’s a fairly common theme from traditional media types and contains the assumption that Media 2.0 is somehow out to “replace” Media 1.0. Jay Rosen referred to Henderson as a replacenik: “A replacenik, @hendopolis, says the salient fact about new media is that it won’t replace the old, neglecting to specify who said it would.”

In fairness, Henderson’s argument is entirely about Twitter.

I think I’m some sort of dinosaur, because I feel that although it’s clear Twitter has many qualities there is no way it’s a replacement for longer forms of financed reporting, in which there’s a proper investment into training, the development of veracity and the cultivation of trust.

…But Twitter is nothing more advanced than a high tech rumour mill. It doesn’t replace sending trained and resourced correspondents to places…It can’t replace the kind of journalism that requires even a modicum of fact checking and investigation.

It’s hard to argue with any of that, but the problem is that nobody is! Henderson is trapped in the belief that new media’s intent is to “replace” the old, and nothing could be further from the truth. New media disrupts old media as it evolves; it doesn’t necessarily take its place; even though it may just shove it aside. Old media’s problem is that it has approached this on the defensive instead of fully embracing the disruption.

I was first shown a portion of the following sequence of images many years ago by Gordon Borrell. I’ve used them for so long and so many times that some people think I made them up. Gordon told me once of a guy in his audience who, when he showed his original (with Harvard Business School’s help) slides, said “that’s a Terry Heaton slide, right?” The sequence perfectly depicts the disruption of Media 2.0 (the green circle) as it encroaches on the Media 1.0 space (the blue circle). Throughout the sequence, the green circle grows, while the blue circle is overcome and surrounded.

Take a look, and then we’ll talk about the gray.

the disruptor approaches

The disruption approaches as it grows, but hasn’t yet impacted Media 1.0.

the disruptor is nigh

As the disruption encroaches on the business of legacy media, it responds by embracing whatever it can to sustain its business model. This is the beginning of the gray response.

the disruptor approaches

The disruption grows, yet we still only respond with what matches our business model.

the disruptor approaches

A very few legacy companies realize that they must enter the disruption’s core with a separate organization not encumbered by an old business model, and they are rewarded with the top revenues in the local space.

the disruptor approaches

Finally, the disruption overtakes everything and those who continue to practice only in the gray are destined to reduced — but not necessarily unprofitable — roles in the Media 2.0 hegemony.

In each slide, the gray area represents those elements of the disruption that “work” to extend the brand and the business model of Media 1.0. An old colleague of mine describes that as “bolting the new onto the old.” Unable to see ourselves as anything other than the mass media that we are, we simply continue to exist as an old business model in a sea of new media and miss what the disruption brings to the table. We miss also that we are now competing (for advertising dollars) against an entirely new group of players, because we’re still too busy competing with our old foes. This has tragic consequences for traditional media.

It’s tragic, because the disruption isn’t now nor has it ever been about content; it’s all about revenue. Borrell’s 2010 Benchmarking Study in March of this year illuminated what’s really taking place.

News and information sites do indeed generate revenue, but the Top 5 local online companies derive all their content from their own advertisers. In fact, half of the top 20 are all-advertising sites.

…Looking at the local online landscape from (the) angle (of) who’s making the most money…we get a clear perspective on the type of content is most valuable in the lean-forward medium of the Internet. Leading the pack are companies whose sole purpose is to deliver advertising content.

In 44 of more than 200 markets we track, Groupon or generates more revenue than the largest local newspaper, TV or radio station online operation in that market. This is a startling revelation considering the fact that Groupon did not have a dime of revenue two years ago. This year, about two dozen of its local operations will generate over $10 million each. Craigslist, meanwhile, generated about $20 million from its site in New York and about $1.6 million each in Phoenix and Houston, and is bringing in more than $10 million per site in more than two dozen cities.

As legacy media, we continue to believe in the assumption (yes, assumption) that advertising that interrupts or is adjacent to news content is the only kind of advertising that matters, and that’s where we make our mistake. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue itself is being disrupted by those who not only share the risk with advertisers but also bring them real, countable customers. We will see more and more of this.

The smart money these days is on companies who ACT on separating the creation of content with the growing of revenue. I should add that this window is beginning to close, because it’s been letting the pureplay flies in for too long already. We need to be in the advertiser content creation business, and use our weapons to make a difference on behalf of those who pay us. At least we would be in sync with how they’re increasingly spending their money.

Meanwhile, can we please get off this false argument that new media wants to replace the old?

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