Archive for September, 2011

While media companies are starting to realize that they must continue to build their relationship with their customers in order to survive, new data suggests they better do so quickly and with the right partners.
New data from Citicorp shows how dramatically people are growing the time they spend on Facebook.
What this means is that the social platform is providing more and more content and providing its users with a preferred place to consume that content. In much the same way Apple has taken more and more of people’s time to consume content on it’s devices, Facebook has spent the time to learn how people want to consume and converge content into their routines, and continues to build devices for them to do so, on Facebook.
While this is generally a good thing for content creators, because it’s yet another outlet for content, it’s also a threat because it puts the social network squarely between the content creator and it’s audience. And the fact is, Facebook will know more about consumer behavior than the content creators will. This is the exact issue that causes the content providers to worry about Apple.
But now, like Apple, we’re beyond trying to create alternatives. Success will come to those who work best with Apple and now Facebook. It’s a long, hard road to succeed reaching today’s audiences without them.

The world of Journalism is in a world of pain. It’s having a severe identity crisis, caused largely by the fact that it’s readers and viewers are behaving like A.D.D – stricken kids and jumping from one new device to another to be entertained and informed. The chaotic and exciting world of changing technology has captured the hearts and minds of everyone, and given them an entirely new set of expectations about how frequently and easily they can access news and entertainment, and how easily they can access marketplaces for things they want to buy and sell.

Combine all that with a rotten economy that has cut advertising expenditures in general, and you have a perfect storm threatening the world of journalism, particularly on the local level.

While it’s truly becoming a wonderful world of media, and while people are consuming more of it than ever, those who are in the business of creating that content are perplexed and confused. The rules of their world have changed and are continuing to change with each new development, which could be anything from the rapid adaption of mobile devices as sources of news, information and entertainment to the dramatic rise in alternative delivery systems and platforms for high-quality video content.

So along comes the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help fill the growing breach between consumer demand for local journalism and the diminishing ability of traditional news sources to serve that demand. The Knight foundation is supporting, through several initiatives, a large number of projects designed to bring targeted, valuable news and information to audiences everywhere.

the latest round of Knight initiatives were announced yesterday (Sept. 21, 2011) in San Francisco. As part of a larger effort called the Knight Community Information Challenge, community foundations around the country were invited to propose projects that would help grow new outlets for local news and information. Yesterday, Knight announced 19 grants totaling $2.26 million dollars.

A New Orleans group is going to increase coverage of and oversite into charter schools there. A Lexington, Ky. entry promised to encourage healthy eating and lifestyles. In rural Puerto Rico, where unemployment runs as high as 40%, a community foundation will attempt to increase the information available to those seeking jobs and give small businesses tips on how to create jobs, get permits and manage projects.

Three different foundations in Denver and Atlanta are developing ways to make government data far more available and useful to local people and businesses that could use it.

Still other projects more directly involve training and deploying more locally-based professional journalists, and sharing their experiences with each other. A Vermont website was funded to hire an investigative reporter to cover health reform and energy issues in the state. A Winnipeg, Canada, foundation was given money to train, engage and empower citizen journalists in places where professionals rarely go.

In the end, quality journalism has to survive as a self-sustaining industry. But efforts like these and the thousands of others across the country to fund serious journalism with contributions are helping preserve the best elements of our profession. That is an awesome task.

But we in Journalism will have to be able to stand on our own two feet and follow our own instincts on what stories to follow and not worry about whether or not there is enough money to do the things we HAVE to do.

With all of the chaos at Yahoo, the debate is raging yet again: Should it be a better tech company or should it be a content company? Has it conceded so much ground in the tech arena to the likes of Google and Apple that it HAS to recreate itself as a content company, or should it try to regain the mojo that help it become a powerhouse of the last decade and build an audience of several hundred million users? Or, is content the right way to go anyway?

The answer is yes, to each question. Yahoo has talented and creative engineers and programmers. It also has a huge audience that it has monetized better than most with display advertising. But it has also been left in the dust by Google’s ability to build a monster search and direct advertising business. And it has lost significant ground in email and mobile application development. On the content side Yahoo has historically done a great job as an aggregator and shown the ability to add value in that aggregation by attracting significant audiences from its large pool of users. But it has not shown an ability to crack the new media formula that has begun to build businesses around a combination of aggregation, curation and original content (like Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and others.)

The magic formula for the future involves a combination of content and technology, specifically the technology that will create new forms of storytelling and guide better and more efficient consumption of content.

We are entering an age of Convergence. Content and technology are converging to create the newest forms of storytelling and giving consumers entirely new ways to consume content. The creation of IOS and Android powered smart phones, The IPad, Kindle etc, and other developments have clearly changed the landscape and they are only the beginning.

Successful content companies will need to understand and even master new technologies and truly understand how their customers will use those technologies to consume content. In order to succeed they will have to learn how to deliver their content on the new platforms AND how to optimize their content for those platforms. If the ability to give consumer content in real time continues to grow, will content companies have to accept that more content will need to be delivered in smaller bites? Will they have to include more video or interactivity on portable devices? Will targeting that content become even more essential in order to help consumers navigate an overwhelming overload of content?

We barely know the questions to ask, much less the answers. We are starting to understand those questions, but the answers are more elusive than we think. Media companies will have to continue to pay close attention to both technology AND consumer habits, particularly how consumers continue to change their habits because of new technology.

While many companies are taking steps in these directions, no one has emerged with all the answers. Apple has done a magnificent job of matching new products with consumer demand, even helping to create the demand. But Apple has done that from the perch of a consumer products company, a hardware company. They have steadfastly avoided the creations of content and have even had very rocky relationships with many of the content creators because their interests aren’t totally aligned.

Google has done a great job of building a targeted advertising business that takes advantage of its search business to uber-target and create efficient management. But Google, too, has avoided becoming a content creator. It does generate content from some acquisitions, but for the most part it’s content created by others, like the videos on YouTube or restaurant ratings from Zagat’s readers.

So the door is open for a company that can simultaneously seek to listen to and understand it’s audience and participate in the development of technology that gives them what they want and more.

Yahoo needs to be a company that commits to creativity in both technology and content, attempting to lead in both, but only in the context of how they work together. Whether content is email, user-generated video, advertising or unique reporting from a war zone, Yahoo should be all over the process of creating and delivering content to consumers through multiple platforms.
It should also take advantage of having one of the best brands built over the past decade to create branded content on all platforms.

You have to give fired Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz credit for understanding fairly quickly that the business had to become a media business to succeed. For a tech CEO to come to that conclusion had to be difficult, especially at Yahoo, where engineers have dominated the company from the beginning, leading to much of its early success and many of its later problems.

Unfortunately for Bartz that conclusion meant either she had to move quickly to get the kind of media executives needed to create a great content company, and give them the rope to succeed OR have the company replace her with a content-related CEO.

But neither happened, and once again like so many times before, Yahoo flailed about and failed to match performance with expectations. In the area of journalism, they talked the talk about bringing in strong content creators and they have hired some truly talented journalists, particularly in sports, but others as well. And they have brought in some talented and experienced execs, like Ross Levinsohn. They have not, however built any kind of media infrastructure to nurture the creation of leading brands of major news, sports, arts and business categories. All of those have huge advertising markets but has done little to break new ground for advertisers on their digital platforms.

Yahoo News, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Arts, Yahoo Finance could claim the high ground with the right leadership teams. They have to learn to extend their brands into more traditional media through partnerships and creative thinking (perhaps like Yahoo itself has done in partnering with newspapers on classified advertising. ) Having some of Yahoo’s first rate journalists in all categories- appearing on television and print regularly is a start, but real programming is even better. There is plenty of bandwidth and there are plenty of networks looking for programming. Even though they will be digital players at heart, making waves on all media platforms will accelerate their ability to build their content brands.

Yahoo’s massive audience gives it the ability to play with the traditional media big boys, who have huge audiences on their platforms but struggle to transition their content to the new platforms. Yahoo could take a page out of the Politico Playbook, and build old and new media publishing at the same time, and manage the transition of their readers from one medium to many others.

It’s not just in news or journalism where Yahoo can play. It started down the path of creating entertainment content, but cut the cord on that experiment much too quickly, and watching the execs who they hired go off and do exactly that outside the company.

It’s always hard to tell from the outside why a CEO fails. There could be blame to be shared with some of the board members, or entrenched staffers or even the founders, but we can’t be sure. Besides, the buck stops at the CEO’s desk and managing the expectations of her constituencies, including the board, the founders, the staff, partners, the financial world and customers is her job, and it’s why she gets the big bucks, coming and going.