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A Modern Media Manifesto for the Digital-First Era

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There’s talk of the future of media in the air. Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only pub, The Daily, is about to launch, mini-mogul Nick Denton wants to merge the best of TV, magazines and online into his Gawker Media blog network and Journal Register CEO John Patton recently told attendees at an International Newsmedia Marketing Association event that even newspapers need to be digital first. The source of all this is the harsh spotlight digital and NewNet technologies currently cast on traditional media businesses, which tools like social media and real-time feeds are helping to re-invent.

First, since NewNet technologies are the catalyst for building off proven Internet media models, here’s a manifesto modern media companies should follow to thrive:

All media must be multimedia: One brand, one audience, multiple channels. Optimize programming for each channel; fine-tune revenue models as well, but drive traffic across all. Make the audience active in creation, consumption and distribution.

What’s the Model?

Patton is right in saying midsize newspapers need to focus on digital — that’s where their audience is, after all. He said his online audience is bigger than that of print (similar to the UK’s Daily Mail), and though digital dollars lag, they’re nonetheless growing. Even TV advertisers are coming around: Fox is getting advertisers to accept Hulu ad inventory as “make-goods” to fulfill network audience reach promises.

“Digital first” is the right mindset for media companies for three reasons:

  1. Digital audiences and ad revenues are growing.
  2. Online and mobile are the platforms for the social media interactivity that consumers are demanding.
  3. Online is the driver of modern content aggregation and syndication.

Big media brands like News Corp. and Time Warner should consider ESPN the very model of a modern media company. Originating in cable TV, ESPN’s brand is usurping that of sister company ABC Sports, and ESPN has leading online, magazine and radio properties. ESPN is not what you’d call a leader in social media vs. competitors; its efforts center instead on providing a successful fantasy sports business with lots of on-air and online programming support.

Rating the New Initiatives

Two new initiatives — one from a traditional player and one from an online startup — bear examining in this modern digital media context. Neither model looks perfect, but each has tactics other media companies should monitor:

  • News Corp.’s forthcoming The Daily is bold in its effort to establish value in the consumer’s mind by charging for its digital content, and the walled garden that is Apple’s iPad enables that. But that could limit the publication’s social and syndication opportunities. To-date, most iPad mags aren’t very connected to the rest of the world, but that’s a matter of choice rather than platform. Publishing once a day, though, is an outmoded convention.
  • Gawker Media’s redesigns feel a lot like online magazine sites circa 2008. But the new approach accommodates multiple media formats, and its UI gracefully blends promotion and a feed. Gawker properties have always had lively user commentary, active linking and curated aggregation. But like The Daily, Gawker Media limits its advertising opportunities by being online-only.

Some might ask, what type of media company should do which? It’s the wrong question. NewNet digital media is defined by topic (national news, sports, local, tech, entertainment) and audience (mass, niche, professional, youth), and the individual company must deliver to advertisers and subscribers across channels. But each company has its roots:

  • Newspapers should be most comfortable with real-time, but need to re-allocate resources away from content that can be outsourced.
  • Magazines face tough business model changes, but can promote audience/topic alignment to brand advertisers. They need to build out sponsorship opportunities that leverage social media.
  • TV Networks have the most difficult challenge in replacing content. So their focus must be using NewNet media to promote and re-engage their audience. They too should evolve social sponsorships that exploit the reach of their hit shows.
  • Online pure-plays should accommodate social more easily, and have relatively smaller staffs that utilize commodity content. They need networks and partners for reach and off-line promotion and advertising.

Question of the week

How do you define a modern media company?