The Mugwump Moment

The hardworking staff at Campaign Outsider was recently asked to compose an essay addressing the state of the communications industry.

Our humble offering:

This is the Mugwump Moment in the media world – mug on one side of the fence, wump on the other.

The fence, of course, is the Internet.

From journalism to television, from film to marketing, the new media are transforming the old, while endlessly recreating themselves.

“The decoupling of advertising from news”

Nowhere is the new-media dynamic more evident than in the newspaper industry. During the 1990s, most newspaper organizations made a dreadful miscalculation – they thought the Internet was the caboose, so they put their content on the Web for free.

To their everlasting dismay, newspapers subsequently learned that the Internet isn’t the caboose. It’s the engine.

In its State of the News Media 2009 report, the Project for Excellence in Journalism wrote,  “The problem facing American journalism is not fundamentally an audience problem or a credibility problem. It is a revenue problem – the decoupling . . . of advertising from news.”

As audiences have migrated to the Internet in steadily growing numbers, they’ve also changed the way they consume news. These New Aggregators, who assemble their own version of the news, no longer need the traditional packagers in the mainstream media. The unit of value for today’s news consumer is the story, not the package.

That leaves news organizations claiming to be platform-agnostic regarding their content. Problem is, they need more revenue acolytes. Some see hope in the new wave of tablet computers like the iPad. Presumably, print publications will not repeat the mistakes of the past, but actually charge for their content in that format.

Small-Screen Play

Broadcast television networks are struggling to keep pace with cable channels, which have two sources of revenue – programming fees from cable operators, and advertising. Increasingly broadcast networks are seeking their own programming fees for cable retransmission, but so far the results have been modest.

On the TV advertising front, Ad Age columnist Bob Garfield has written:

“[T]he fragmentation of mass media creates . . .  an inexorable death spiral, in which audience fragmentation and ad-avoidance hardware lead to an exodus of advertisers, leading in turn to an exodus of capital, leading to a decline in the quality of content, leading to further audience defection, leading to further advertiser defection and so on to oblivion.”

That apocalyptic outcome is far from certain, but those elements are definitely in play. That’s led broadcasters to explore digital options as both a content platform and a revenue source – with some promising results on both fronts.

Film in 3-D: Dazed, Defensive, Depressed

“I think at the moment it’s a strange time to be a filmmaker,” Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson said recently, “because there’s a sense of depression in the industry. Studios feel DVDs are down and piracy is up, and the entire industry is being as defensive as they possibly can, which leads to movies not being as exciting as they possibly can.”

Which leads to audiences not being as large as they possibly can . . . which leads to . . . see death spiral talk above.

Things are also difficult in what’s been described as the “faltering independent film world.” But once again the Internet is opening up new opportunities and new ways there are currently initiatives by film festivals to use digital distribution and pay-per-view offerings at the same time the films are debuting at the festival.

Strike Up the Brand

The traditional one-way marketing that dominated the advertising and public relations field for so long is gradually yielding to participatory brand-building and relationship marketing.  The rise of social media has provided marketers with tools that both complement and supercharge mass marketing efforts.

Of course, the rise of social marketing brings its own challenges and risks, as these self-styled “citizen marketers” alter the balance of consumer power and operate as co-curators of brand images. This dual brand watchdog/brand ambassador function is a central part of what are no longer marketing campaigns as much as consumer conversations.

So there you have today’s media world – one half firmly grounded in tradition, the other half looking out at new horizons.

Welcome to the Mugwump Moment.

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