The future of media companies

Two reads in the past two days have me thinking about the future of media companies and helped me reached a conclusion.

Both pieces were written in the wake of the examination of the 2012 Presidential Election results. They are:

My conclusion: Newspaper companies are out of touch with the communities they serve. The impact is felt tangibly: shrinking audience, less revenue and lack of innovation.

Mutter’s focus is on newspaper endorsements. I could care less about who a newspaper endorses or if it reflects the majority opinion of voters in its readership. Media companies should take a stand and converse openly and collaboratively about it with its community. It’s the latter that rarely occurs, however. It remains the one-way megaphone form of communication.

Mutter’s money quote: “The fact that so many newspapers were not on the same page as the majority of voters in several swing states in this election suggests they may be dangerously out of tune with the communities they serve.”

Doctor focuses on demographics saying “the people creating the news look less and less like the communities they cover.” He offers three approaches to solving that issue: people, products and position.

I don’t have the answers. There is still much talk about digital first and creating content differently. Good things are happening, but it’s not enough.

Media companies would benefit from more product development

This morning, I read Alan Mutter’s post on “A digital publishing model that works” and what stood out above all is the need for more solid product development at media companies.

Mutter thoughtfully analyzes the revenue and audience development success of LinkedIn via a digital publishing strategy compared with newspaper job classified verticals.

“While newspapers stuck with the classic model of putting job ads in front of thousands of people in hopes of matching employers with job seekers, LinkedIn leverages the full power of digital publishing to identify ideal candidates for employers – even when they’re not looking for jobs,” Mutter writes.

It’s no secret that the media industry has a tradition of slow and often closed-off reactions to market changes around once monopolized revenue streams. I happen to work in a market with a strong jobs vertical, which is atypical of many media organizations. It won’t be long before market winds create enough inertia to move audience and revenue elsewhere, I fear. Marketplace, autos and real-estate dollars were lost in the past decade by shifting from mass market penetration to innovative, audience driven solutions with targeted advertising and content models. Media companies were slow or didn’t react at all. And the obituary revenue model shift is likely happening now or coming soon, along with others.

So, what can be done? Well, I argue media companies need to invest in product development, and ideally people with a background in ecommerce and digital publishing.

There are many reasons why I feel this way. Here are three:

To balance audience-driven solutions with customer-driven solutions – It’s a balancing act that media companies have a hard tradition to overcome. In the past, advertisers drove many product decisions. Now, if the product or service is not solving a problem for the audience or creating remarkable experiences the revenue and the users won’t be there. This means actually talking and listening to users and customers before a product is put in the market.

To analyze and react to the vast amount of available data – Product developers love to react to data. Data helps create meaningful solutions. Takes the jobs vertical, for example. If there are 50 job listings for nurses in your market and those are being viewed 40 times more than any other posting a product developer can create targeted revenue solutions for customers that meet audience demands in a matter of hours, and that is just one example. I bet most media organizations aren’t looking and reacting to that type of data daily, weekly or monthly. The problem is our competitors are.

To experiment – Product managers are doers. A great quality in this makers society. Often media companies hire outside consultants with the allure of doing innovative things. Consultants are smart, and I have some as good friends. But in my experience consultants get paid by the hour, which makes them ideal talkers. They give good advice and sound direction but too many of them won’t get into the dirty details. Product developers do.

As I mentioned, those are just three arguments on why media should invest more fully in product development. Do you have examples of successful product development at a media company? Please share.

Note – I am a product manager for an agency within a media company, so I may appear quite bias. In fairness, I have worked for media companies my entire career as a reporter and online editor in a newsroom, and now as a product manager on the product, sales and marketing side working with internal and external clients.

Resources

 

Some of the projects I’m currently engaged with

A quick rundown of some of the projects I am involved with inside and outside of regular work. If any of these spark your interest, check them out and give me some feedback. Would love to hear your thoughts.

IowaCaucus.com

I work at a media company in Iowa and politics is one of the things outside of work that I follow most closely. We’ve launched a niche site, IowaCaucus.com, without many resources to keep people engaged. It’s a start. We have one internal content resource and two people contributing regularly to compliment curation efforts and wire content.Our SEO efforts need to improve, and we have plans for a couple of features that would help engage with the audience.

Hoopla Music

I’ve been involved with the Hoopla Music project from the start. I enjoy the live music scene in Eastern Iowa, and it’s better than you might think. This site is easy to navigate as include the most comprehensive list of live music shows in the area. From the start, we committed a live person to contact bands and local venues to create the data. It launched about two weeks ago and so far the traffic is low but the audience has had nothing but good things to say.

BarcampICR

I’m no stranger to the barcamp experience and when I heard a group of local people in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area were starting the process to organize one I wanted to help in some way. I am currently working on the content of the site. It’s live and we formally hope to launch late next week. The goal of the barcamp is to get the creative and innovate minds together in the area and start a dialogue and  do some things that help better the community.

Other ideas I’m working on:

The essential mobile app for Univ. of Iowa college students – The name sounds pretty lofty but all the mobile apps out there seem to cater to the classroom experience. We are working on focus groups to learn exactly what could make the experience of living in the Iowa City area better. So far, the hypothesis centers around these topics: study, drink, recreation, style. We should learn much from the focus groups.

Proactive approach to community contributors – Our company has done well in recruiting and receiving photos, videos and news tips from people who are willing to help us cover the news. But we have no internal mechanism to easily contact them when breaking news or weather events occur. These contributors could also be good sources for community news and events we don’t know about. I’m working with a small group to define the requirements of building a service to group contributors into affinity groups with a trigger to email, text or phone them when it is most relevant.

Mobile strategy – As the web continues to shrink and the need for local media to be more liquid, how a media company plays in the mobile space will be essential to our survival. Not to mention how we make money on mobile platforms.

Product differentiation via storytelling – We have newspaper and broadcast television packages that look and feel very similar on web and mobile platforms. No on is really training or educating well on storytelling on digital platforms. I’m working with a few others to define the training and tools necessary to transition our teams to work that into the everyday workflow.

What projects are you currently working on?