Signs of the Media Meltdown

by Chris Kenton on May 18, 2007

Cross posted on Marketonomy.

I’ve been struggling with the ground-level reality of media transformation over the past couple of weeks, working out the details of a business model, advertising structure and platform for MarketingRev. I’ve been a little shell-shocked by the practical obstacles and some of the attitudes I keep running into among people dealing with rapid and disruptive change. Let’s just say a lot of people who have a long history in traditional media are not all that hunky-dory about what’s happening to their beloved fourth estate.

The bottom line is that traditional media is against the ropes. Advertising dollars are peeling away from print, television and radio, and advertising dollars are growing online. The problem is, the size of the growth online is only a fraction of what’s being lost in traditional media, which means old line companies can’t simply shift online to save their butts. It’s more like falling off a cliff.

A lot of people from traditional media are not too happy about the state of affairs. But I can’t help noticing how their responses to the situation highlight precisely why they’re in this predicament in the first place. Resistance to change–and a skewed perspective on reality. We have mainstream media pundits continuously writing off bloggers as “not journalists”–as shrill, opinionated, trigger-happy typists. They refuse to examine much less embrace the incredible power of distributed eyes and ears–many of whom are, actually, journalists–because it undermines their own power to determine the agenda. If you think blogs are by definition lightweight, here’s one recent example of how lightweight the media is compared to an informed and passionate blogger.

Then we have major media executives blustering about how they haven’t even begun to fight.

“The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation,” Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Richard Parsons said, referring to the Civil War American general George Custer who was defeated by Native Americans in a battle dubbed “Custer’s Last Stand”. “They will lose this war if they go to war,” Parsons added, “The notion that the new kids on the block have taken over is a false notion.”

But my favorite recent quote is from Sean McManus, explaining why Katie Couric is taking CBS for a nosedive in the ratings.

“Maybe we underestimate the huge shift this represented,” Mr. McManus said. “It was almost a watershed event to have a woman in that chair.” He added, “There is a percentage of people out there that probably prefers not to get their news from a woman.”

Yeah, that’s it. It’s a woman problem. Not a problem with one of the biggest media companies trying to replace a serious newscast with a $15M creampuff. Not a problem with traditional media vastly misreading what the public wants to consume as news. But this is the epitome of why traditional media is melting down. People know they can’t trust the shiny representation of reality that is packaged to improve consumption. And now they have alternatives.

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