Shafer: “advantage Crichton”

Don’t miss Jack Shafer’s follow-up to previous pieces about Michael Crichton’s 1993 predictions of the demise of mass media. It’s a worthwhile read:

As we pass his prediction’s 15-year anniversary, I’ve got to declare advantage Crichton. Rot afflicts the newspaper industry, which is shedding staff, circulation, and revenues. It’s gotten so bad in newspaperville that some people want Google to buy the Times and run it as a charity! Evening news viewership continues to evaporate, and while the mass media aren’t going extinct tomorrow, Crichton’s original observations about the media future now ring more true than false. Ask any journalist.

Crichton’s 1993 prophecies shocked the media world at the time, and he was certainly off by several years. Nevertheless, I agree with Shafter that it’s “advantage Crichton” at this point.

The “mass” is the problem, because the ability to communicate on a large scale has been separated from the “special” application formerly required, as former FCC Chairman Michael Powell so brilliantly observed in a 2004 Silicon Valley discussion.

Now to be a phone company, you don’t have to weave tightly the voice service into the infrastructure. You can ride it on top of the infrastructure. So if you’re a Vonage, you own no infrastructure. You own no trucks. You roll to no one’s house. They turn voice into a application and shoot it across one of these platforms. And, suddenly, you’re in your business.

And that’s why if you’re the music industry, you’re scared. And if you’re the television studio, movie industry, you’re scared. And if you’re an incumbent infrastructure carrier, you’d better be scared. Because this application separation is the most important paradigm shift in the history of communications, and will change things forever.… I have no problem if a big and venerable company no longer exists tomorrow, as long as that value is transferred somewhere else in the economy.

Powell was referring to the telephone business, but the paradigm shift about which he spoke applies to every form of communications today. Couple that with the rise of personal media and you have Crichton’s disappearing mass.

This is why it’s so important for all local media companies to understand what business we’re in. We’re not newspapers, television stations and radio stations; we’re all in the information and entertainment business. If we approach tomorrow “only” as a TV station, for example, we’re living in the problem of disappearing mass and, therefore, completely missing the possibilities.

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