Views of the future from two “biggies”

I hope that from time-to-time you are able to step back from the chaos that seems to be enveloping the media world of late to think about the remarkable opportunities that are before us. We’re living in a new Gutenberg moment, and I hope we don’t miss the forest for the trees.

From a memo to Tribune employees by Sam Zell and Randy Michaels:

What has become clear as we have gotten intimately familiar with the business is that the model for newspapers no longer works. Supply and demand are not in balance, and that manifests itself in two ways:

1. We are not giving readers what they want, and
2. We are printing bigger papers than we can afford to print

First, our publishing business — and to reiterate, it IS a business — needs to retool itself to a customer-centric model. We have now reviewed dozens of reader studies done by Tribune over the years, and they present clear and consistent findings. Readers want:

* Unbiased, honest journalism
* LOCAL consumer and community news
* Maps, graphics, lists, ranking and stats

Some of our papers do some of these things well, and some of our papers do them better than others. But, ALL of our papers need to improve in this area. We’re in the business of satisfying customers, and we WILL respond to what they say they want.

From an interview that Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer did with the Washington Post:

What is your outlook for the future of media?

In the next 10 years, the whole world of media, communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down — my opinion.

Here are the premises I have. Number one, there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.

10 years?

Yeah. If it’s 14 or if it’s 8, it’s immaterial to my fundamental point.… If we want TV to be more interactive, you’ll deliver it over an IP network. I mean, it’s sort of funny today. My son will stay up all night basically playing Xbox Live with friends that are in various parts of the world, and yet I can’t sit there in front of the TV and have the same kind of a social interaction around my favorite basketball game or golf match. It’s just because one of these things is delivered over an IP network and the other is not.…

Also in the world of 10 years from now, there are going to be far more producers of content than exist today. We’ve already started to see that certainly in the online world, but we’ve just scratched the surface.… I always take my favorite case: I grew up in Detroit. I went to a place called Detroit Country Day School. They’ve got a great basketball team. Why can’t I sit in front of my television and watch the Country Day basketball game when I know darn well it’s being video-recorded at all times? It’s there. It’s just not easy to navigate to.

While these thoughts are terrifying, they are at the same time, exciting. Many print people are dismissing Balmer’s predictions, and I agree that those who make absolute prophecies tend to be wrong far more often than they’re right (2018? I’m not so sure). They point to the fact that free dailies are going like gangbusters in Europe, and that global newspaper circulation is trending upwards. We’ll see.

Regardless, these are incredible times in which we live.

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