Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It’s The Message That Matters, Not The Medium

News Corporation has today announced a new unit within its organization which will facilitate the sharing of content and resources between the company’s many arms. Much more than a stable of major newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, and of course the Australian, News Corporation includes television production and broadcasting, movie production and distribution, book publishing, and an expanding presence on the internet including Myspace. It should be a no brainer to see the opportunity to maximize the return on all of that content across the empire.

At the same time, Kevin Rudd’s announcement of a new superfast National Broadband Network has prompted many to observe that online streaming of both audio and video will begin to challenge the existence of traditional television and radio broadcasting. It should be obvious that as the technology of the internet improves, and the ability of portable devices to access it expands it is only a matter of time before traditional broadcasting services could be made obsolete and irrelevant. The day is rapidly approaching when reliable always on wireless broadband will be commonly available in the dashboard of every car, and when that happens radio as we know it could well disappear.

Of course, that doesn’t have to be the case. Just because the platform is changing doesn’t necessarily mean that the radio experience has to be lost. The crucial thing is to see it as a process, not as a piece of equipment. Radio itself has embraced the challenges of a changing landscape over the years and has survived the onslaught of television, the introduction of FM broadcasting, and now the rapid expansion of the internet. Right now, radio is gearing up for digital broadcasting, even though there is still some debate about whether or not the internet will one day make it obsolete. Ironically, that brings us to the point. Either way, the program is going to be digital. The important thing is that technology always changes, and it doesn’t matter how people listen to what we call radio; what matters is the content.

This means two things. First, there will always be a niche for local broadcasting to provide the kind of local content that simply isn’t of interest to a national or international audience. There will always be a need for local news, local sport, local weather, and local community information to be disseminated and local radio remains a great way to achieve that, notwithstanding the current tendencies of big companies to rely on networking and syndicated programs. The day will come when even such local programming is online rather than on the air, but remember it’s not the platform that matters, only the content.

The second thing is the opportunity for non local programming, or what might be described as global programming. As the internet grows and matures into a fully fledged digital media platform, the opportunity will open up for individuals to access virtually any programming from anywhere at anytime. In such an environment, the quality of the content becomes increasingly important. In addition to that, the convergence of media, much discussed for many years, really will become inevitable.

Already there are radio station websites which look like newspaper sites; there are newspaper sites that play streaming video reports; there are television network websites which operate as portals into millions of online classified advertisements. Fairfax, the oldest and most traditional newspaper empire in Australia operates a digital newspaper in Brisbane which exists only on the internet and is never printed on actual paper. In all of the big media companies content which is created for the traditional media will find its way onto the internet, but it is also happening the other way around where content which was generated for the internet is now finding its way onto the traditional media.

For any media organization, whether it is a giant like News Corporation, or a small network of radio stations, the key to ongoing success in a constantly changing environment has to be the creation and management of content. It will be the quality of the content which attracts and keeps an audience, and therefore advertisers, not the platform on which it is delivered. The funny thing is that, when you think about it, that has always been the case. It’s just that sometimes the people running the show forget this because they get carried away with flashy new technology. They are distracted by the medium and they miss the message.

In the end, if the content is not relevant to the audience, whether it is old media or new, people will switch it off.

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