My Thesis on the Future of Media

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.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

16 thoughts on “My Thesis on the Future of Media”

  1. I didn’t know about sixcolor, so went to check it out. Oh my, their piece on the MBP’s USB connector, and it is utterly wrong on exactly everything, starting with confusing the connector (USB-C) and the underlying protocol (USB 3.0), going on to mis-attribute USB 3.0 features to USB 3.1, and to top it off even getting the speed of the port wrong (it’s 5.0 Gbps, not 10, this is a USB 3.0 port, not a true (gen 2) 3.1).
    That kind of drive home the point that really anyone came make news no. Hopefully that site is more accurate on other subjects.

    1. I don’t think the author/article is particularly wrong or confused.

      Yes, he talks about USB-C and USB 3/3.1 in the same paragraph, but I think it is sufficiently clear that he is talking about both connectors and protocols. Plus, everything I can find clearly links the USB-C connector with USB 3.1, so the article is right about that.

      However, What’s perhaps confusing is that Apple’s spec page for the MacBook shows “USB 3.1 Gen 1 (up to 5 Gbps)”, when the USB group seems to call USB 3.0 “Gen 1”, and USB 3.1 (at 10Gbps) “Gen 2”. Apple seems to be saying they are using a new connector designed for 3.1, with 3.0.

      1. OK, let’s do some fact-checking:
        “USB-C is exciting new technology”. It’s a… connector. The actual capabilities are from the USB 3.0 standard, and have been available for years over USB-A connectors.
        “The MacBook implements support for USB 3.1, a high-speed transfer medium”. Not really that high-speed, it only implements USB 3.0 @5Gbps, not true 3.1 (gen 2) @10 Gbps.
        “But USB-C is so much more versatile than previous versions of USB that it’s not even funny”. USB 3.0 (over USB-A ports) has been able to do everything “USB-C” (sic, one assumes he means USB 3.1) can do for years (except 10Gbps which the Mac doesn’t do). 3.0 can do power delivery/input, xHCI hence video…
        “Devices can use that throughput for fast storage as well as high-resolution video-out”. True of USB 3.0 over a USB-A port too.
        “And USB-C also supports bi-directional power, so you can charge a laptop with it–or use a laptop to charge another device with it.” Ditto.

  2. “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.”

    At the same time it is an understandable confusion. After all, the PC was merely replacing a printed page for most of its life. Why shouldn’t simply transferring the print model to digital work? And for a long time we got things delivered to us usually in the form of email, itself meant to replace a handwritten page.

    Came across this article this morning, too:

    This got me thinking, along with your article, about how many people are still influenced by what has been. The great disruptor is that we are at time where more things are possible than just trying to digitally replicate our analogue history.

    I also read a few days ago about some print models that are doing well. I think what needs rethinking is what forms best serve the information and content being provided. With so many content delivery options now available, some still to be explored, doesn’t mean the old forms are irrelevant. It just means they may no longer be the best for the task at hand. Especially for things that move as quickly as news.


  3. I worked in the newspaper industry for a few years. I see a few reasons why old media can’t transition. The ad/content ratio is often 60 to 70 percent ads with 30 to 40 percent content. That model won’t work on the web/digital/mobile, it’s just too many ads. Old media has way too much overhead, especially when it comes to the middle layer of managers and editors. Old media typically does not have specialists or experts (not many anyway), journalists are normally required to work on a wide range of stories and topics, most of which they know very little about, hence the quality is often poor.

    I think we’re at the beginning of a fresh explosion of new media because we now have ‘epaper’ that a lot of people carry with them everywhere, which is the mobile phone (and other portable screens of course, but mostly the pocket screen). The future is an inch wide and a mile deep.

    1. Indeed, I’m wondering if the “old” in old media is not more important than the “media” itself: lots of resources seem to be wasted in non-content-generating activities. And since those managers are the ones making the decisions, cuts in their own ranks are a long time coming… it takes a shareholder revolt.

      1. It’s along those lines, yes. To be a bit more clear, traditional media has huge overhead, the actual content creators are not connected directly to the audience, so you have editors and managers in between, and worse yet you’ve got another layer doing sales/advertising, which absolutely influences content, anyone who says otherwise is naive.

        So the structure of traditional media can’t possibly transition to a modern, mobile model, it would be like trying to fit a large dinosaur through a small door, it’s impossible. I don’t think you can just cut parts of the dinosaur off to make it fit either. The creature itself has to change from within. That’s a tough ask.

        Now add to all of that the reality that much of traditional media content is created by non-experts, and is often very poor or flat out wrong. Your example of sixcolor (in your other comment) is a poor one, you’re just nitpicking. With traditional media non-experts make huge mistakes, quite regularly.

        Going back a few years, but it’s a great example. In the Hillary/Obama primary race, that was mathematically over the evening of February 19th, Obama had mathematically won the nomination. It was over. There was no debate. And yet we saw “Hillary comeback!” headlines everywhere after March 4th. Only a handful of coverage got the actual truth correct, and they were pretty much all ‘new media’.

  4. My big misgiving about the demise of large journalistic print operations like the New York Times or even USA today, and the rise of alternative models on the internet which feature a cadre of opinion writers and reporters is that the websites appear to rely more on the celebrity of the writer for attracting readership. If that is the way for the new journalistic media to survive, well we just have to live with it. I do not begrudge the fame that good writers establish, every person has the right to pursue a bigger paycheck, and I am still confident that bigger paydays still correlate with better quality work product. More or less.

    But I hope that the new journalism still finds room for the unheralded reporter because frankly, I do not trust celebrity reporters, especially of the investigative genus. (Exhibit No. 1, Bob Woodward ever since his name became more of a trademark rather than a byline) They tend to become prominent insiders of the very beat they report on and themselves become part of the news. Then, when they write articles or books that rely on their personal relationships to unnamed insiders (relationships that issue directly from their celebrity) and are not subject to the same standards of fact checking as old journalism, well, I just have a problem with that. It smacks to much of regulatory capture, or might I say in this case, journalistic capture.

  5. The Internet is a great resource, but to some traditional entities it’s as much of a tsunami as Ford’s Model T was to the horse and buggy industry. The old industries aren’t at fault, they just get blindsided by a new force that is too huge to deal with, and they’re swept away.

    The odd thing about GigaOm is that they aren’t old media, they’re new media, and yet they surprise everybody by suddenly vanishing.

  6. The internet has destroyed the big city newspapers in a whole range of different ways: 1) it lowered barriers to entry that were based on distribution, 2) it killed the classified ad business which was appropriated by eBay and Craigslist, 3) it’s put downward pressure on advertising rates, 4) it’s exposed weak editorial operations that were merely rebadging the Reuters et al newsfeeds, 5) monetising online reporting is hard if other websites copy your reporting by including your article by link/reference, 6) the new competitors do not have the same legacy costs and legacy processes. The key thing though is that these forces apply not just to existing media, but also to those who seek to replace existing media.
    Ben Thompson’s website and formula work because he produces valuable and original content. What is great about Ben’s model is that it cannot be copied easily. A boatload of VC money will not allow someone to produce the same content (although it will enable them to hire an army of mediocre writers and thinkers) and, for the moment, it is not worth the effort to steal/thinly-paraphrase his thinking. It is too early to tell how sustainable his differentiators are, but for the moment I’m enjoying the originality of his thinking and analysis.

    1. The way I see it, even worse, the Internet has not only displaced serious and/or printed news with more drivel-y (or, rarely, better-quality) online news, it has also displaced news as a whole category. People are now messaging, playing, consuming non-info media, sometimes even working when and where the only thing they could do before was reading.
      I used to read a lot: in bed, in both bathrooms, in public transport, waiting for appointments… No all that’s moved over to online stuff, about half of it reading still (but IT stuff instead of more general stuff), the rest playing mindless games or watching videos. Everyone but the most seniors seem to be following that broad pattern, with kids messaging more. They’d be ready OK ! instead 20 years ago.

  7. I reside in a state with a very strong public TV and radio presence and it is the best news operation by far. The news is covered in depth and no fluff cute puppy reports. Maybe for print journalism to successfully transition online it has to jettison its for-profit status, explicitly state that they offer a public service (And they are if they hew to the highest standards of journalism) and yes, raise funds through voluntary membership contributions as public radio and TV do.

    I think there are enough good citizens who will be willing to provide the needed financial support because they understand that a vigorous and independent press is necessary for a democracy to function properly

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