My Thesis on the Future of Media

on March 16, 2015

With the shutting down of GigaOm, much discussion has taken place on the internet regarding mainstream media struggles. It seems old media, who have tried to go new media, keeps shutting down left and right or having to sell. Unfortunately, I believe this consolidation will continue. The root cause seems to be a classic story of disruption. The culprit is the internet.

What the internet has enabled is a broad approach to media. The challenge old media/traditional journalism approaches have is they are bringing their print model to the web. It seems their practices online are just slight evolutions of the print model using things like video, audio, and a few other “new media” techniques. But they aren’t really doing anything new or revolutionary. Now, enter things like Twitter, which is a broadcast mechanism, that allows anyone to be a content creator, curator, and consumer in the broadcast universe. This is not to say everyone should be a content creator/producer, only the internet as a platform for blogs, Twitter, etc., allow the opportunity for anyone to build an audience. At the core, this is what every website hopes for and they live and die on their ability to build an audience and keep them engaged and coming back.

What lies at the core of the disruption of old media trying to become new media are the variables they can’t see coming. Which is that someone else figures out how to better serve audiences using brand new ideas and, more importantly, with a much clearer focus. The fact one person can make a living on the web, using a range of monetization options and techniques, and focusing on smaller niche’s (since they don’t need to be large to thrive) is a model traditional media approaches will struggle to compete with.

If you follow my friend Ben Thompson, he is a good example of this. With a little help from Twitter’s platform and democratized publishing tools, he was able to create a sustainable business model of an annual or yearly subscription offering a daily email containing a deep level of value. Similarly Jason Snell, who used to be at MacWorld, went out on his own at his website Six Colors and is doing quite well. Likewise, we at Tech.pinions are trying a different model where analysts, whom many top tech companies seek advice and guidance from, offer their deeper insights and commentary around important industry narratives for readers who subscribe to our service.

They key in all of this is perhaps the shift away from the media site as the destination and to the individual following. While I still believe there is a reason for a site like CNN or the Wall St. Journal or the New York Times, I think the most interesting stuff will come from what is happening in new media from the fringes. There will still be value in an editor, or director when it comes production content. However, the barrier to entry is continually being lowered in every corner of media. The cost for a site like ours, or Ben’s, or Jason’s is dramatically lower than the cost to maintain a larger website and all its writers. Which means, it is easier for us to carve out places on the web and serve audiences who are underserved with a more streamlined business model and a more focused approach.

The news is a commodity. Everyone knows this. Those who are good at adding value on top of the news are the ones who will set themselves apart and grow an audience, making the idea that the author/commentator/columnists/analyst becomes the destination, not the website they write for. This applies mostly to the value add beyond the news. There are, of course, sites like Buzzfeed that are taking a completely different approach to news. This is also potentially highly disruptive.

Now something like Meerkat, a live streaming app leveraging Twitter to allow anyone to live broadcast from their smartphone to their Twitter followers could be even more disruptive. The idea that now everyone with a smartphone can essentially have a built in live broadcast channel is fascinating. I’m not fooled into thinking this concept isn’t also potentially dangerous. However, it is also loaded with possibilities and extremely disruptive.

The internet has constantly helped democratize entrenched publishing tools. Via blogging platforms, the internet allowed anyone to publish to anyone else with an internet connection (billions). Audio came next, as tools became mainstream for anyone to have a podcast (radio show). Live is the last step and it has now arrived. ((I know tools have existed before (remember, but where they failed is where Twitter integration drives success. Access to a social graph, of hundreds of millions of people and growing, instantly.))

The foundation for the total disruption of media is here. It still may take a while but the writing is on the wall. There will be lessons learned, hard lessons, but also many productive ones. Now we get to sit back and watch all the creative ideas that will emerge and bring us forward into the new era.