News of a potential shakeup in media laws will spark another bonfire of speculation about the future of the media, by the media. Of course.
After all, there are few things that fascinate the minds of journalists more than the media business itself. I should know, I was one.
The latest swing at reforming the media sector aims to abolish current ownership restrictions to allow one company to own a TV station, radio station and newspaper in the same market. Part of the conditions include the preservation of local and regional content that’s managed under a points system (subscription).
If voted into legislation, the new laws will likely prompt a raft of mergers and acquisitions. They’ll be much-ado in the media buying world, and it’s all fair enough.
But if we step back a moment, it’s not hard to see how the whole thing is an echo of bigger things afoot. In fact, it’s a little sobering for all concerned.
The Australian’s Mark Day described the proposed media laws (subscription) as: “fiddling with the embroidery in an age when an infinite variety of services can come over the top through high-speed internet broadband.” Nice.
For me, the analogy that springs to mind involves desk chairs and the Titanic. My namesake’s version was more creative.
Either way, it’s all a little bit awkward.
You see, I’m a product of good-old-fashioned media storytelling. I’ve worked in trade press, digital publishing, and at Fairfax as the AFR’s technology editor.
So when it comes to writing about “the death of media” (again), it almost feels like that moment among families when we must speak about the inevitability of your nearest and dearest shuffling off this mortal coil. Not exactly a conversation one rushes into with enthusiasm.
So what, then, do we make of all this? After all, the conversation is becoming deafening again.
In simple terms, the reason why we’re talking about media legislation and avoiding the matter of what will happen to Great-Aunt-Ethel, is because the audience is revolting. Literally and figuratively.
The audience simply won’t behave. If you’re a big media company, this is hardly a news flash, but the trouble is they’re getting quite unruly now.
They’re busy running successful blogs—and forging alliances with blogging agencies to grab sponsorship dollars. They’re also dodging paywalls, using Netflix and Apple TV, ripping off any content that moves, and generally refusing to pay for stuff.
All this sustained trampling of the status quo is playing havoc with newspaper sales, for example. An alarming datapoint was a Roy Morgan survey reported by Mumbrella claiming more people now read catalogues than newspapers. The survey is debatable, but it’s worrying.
Meanwhile, audience misbehaviour isn’t lost on marketing executives. Big brands are all over this from a different perspective, and I’ve now got a front row seat from my perspective as the CEO of a marketing services agency.
Sure, the media still matters, but for different reasons.
Home-grown content, and corporate-funded content brands are not just in Vogue, they’ve become top priorities for CMO’s.
It’s not that they don’t like the media, or they want to be quoted. It’s just that the alternative is pretty compelling. The conversation boils down to whether it’s better to rent access to an audience via the media and social channels, or forge ahead and own the audience yourself.
In reality there will always be the need for some combination of rented and owned media. For example, one of the biggest revenue growth opportunities for traditional media is selling access to their audience via native advertising and its variants.
If you’re a company just starting out on the content marketing and brand storytelling journey, and you want a big audience fast, it can make sense.
But on the whole, the pendulum is swinging away from rental. Notable brand publishing examples include: RedBull Media, CPA Australia’s InTheBlack, Marriott’s content studio, Coca-Cola Journey, Adobe’s CMO.com, and Telstra’s IN:SIGHT platform (for transparency, the latter three are among our clients). Google will serve up plenty more examples if you’re on the hunt.
Getting back to the world of parliamentary debate, broadcasting licenses, market access, keeping politicians happy and protecting the turf.
In my book, two things remain.
Regardless of how it unfolds, our revolting audience won’t care much. It’s a harsh reality but they’re too busy streaming, downloading and sharing to care about who owns what. Crikey, these outrageous millennials don’t even seem to value proper journalism over sponsored content. If the content is good, mobile-centric, available instantly and features cute puppy dogs, then we’re all good.
Secondly, it’s a reminder to keep your eyes on the innovation game. If Malcolm Turnbull can stay true to his innovation plan, the ensuing “ideas boom” could foster the next generation of media, tech, and storytelling platforms that cater for our rampaging audiences.
It must also be said, there’s no reason why big media can’t pivot with the same intention. But the proposed media laws are not the catalyst for change. After all, on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.
Mark Jones is Chief Storyteller + CEO at Filtered Media.