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Everything That Can Be Digital...Is

  |  May 23, 2008   |  Comments

We're undergoing the fastest evolution in media consumption habits in history. So, how you gonna reach me?

"Everything that can be digital will be."

Remember that mantra of the late '90s dot-com boom? It didn't happen back then, and it certainly didn't happen overnight. But it seems to be happening now. Media consumption habits are shifting irrevocably, and perhaps more rapidly and dramatically than at any other period in history.

The changes have become so undeniable even top media executives have begun to openly state the hitherto unspeakable. "We're in the digital storytelling business," Bruce Rosenblum, president, Warner Bros. Television Group, said at a recent press conference marking the unveiling of extensive new Web properties related to the company's programming and licensed characters. "My 20-year-old daughter and her friends are watching...but not on TV."

That's a huge confession coming from a television honcho, and he's not kidding. At Streaming Media East this week, I watched a panel of high school and college students discuss their media consumption habits. When they were asked what was expendable, there was no debate. "TV would be the first thing to go. I'd drop it in a second," asserted one recent college grad.

"News? Weather? There are other ways to get it," shrugged a female high school student.

This drop in television viewership among young audiences has long been acknowledged, but now the gloves are off, even among those working for companies with core broadcast properties. Reacting to CBS's recent acquisition of CNET, Curt Viebranz, former head of Tacoda and AOL's Platform A, told paidContent.com, "CBS is in a dying business so making a digital bet makes sense to me."

Days earlier, the most recent numbers released by the Interactive Advertising Bureau revealed interactive advertising revenues have overtaken cable.

Out with the Old

Here's a fairly dangerous confession, given I make my living as a media-watcher (not to mention a past incarnation as a TV executive): I don't have television. Actually, that's not true. I have one with an HDMI (define) cable that plugs into my laptop. I don't have cable, satellite, or a DVR -- I watch off the Net or my hard drive. Like the students on the Streaming Media panel, I easily find and access what I want to watch, when I want to watch it.

Once upon a time, I subscribed to more periodicals than I can count. These days? Bucking the trend, the dead-tree "New York Times" is delivered to my door every day, but I'm down to a mere three magazine subscriptions -- they aren't trades. In fact, two of the three are quarterlies.

Focus group of one, you say? Sorry, but these trends are backed up by statistics from the newspaper and magazine publishing trade groups.

Reach Me If You Can

Marketers and media owners are fretting over issues such as ad-avoidance and ad-skipping. Yet shifting media consumption patterns call into question how traditional advertising channels can effectively reach consumers at all.

Direct mail? With few to no magazine subscriptions, electronic statements from bank and credit card companies, and even consumers' ability to block credit card solicitations via Equifax and Experian, the postman is carrying a significantly lighter load these days. It's not unusual for me to go two to three days without getting any snail-mail at all. Bloomingdale's just announced it's closing its catalog business, for heaven's sake -- doubtless an industry bellwether, as catalog sales can't compete with e-commerce models.

Will in-store fall by the wayside? The neighborhood video store already has, thanks to plays like Netflix. Seth Godin has termed shopping a leisure activity. I couldn't agree more. It's no exaggeration to say I haven't shopped in a supermarket more than three times in the last five years. Clothing? Electronics? They all arrive via UPS.

What's going to happen to point-of-purchase? In-store marketing? Package design?

Taking a page from the huge percentage of under-30s who do not, and possibly never will, own landline telephones, I yanked my own landline last month, transferring the number to my mobile phone. The do-not-call registry has long since laid telemarketing to rest (except for those aggravating calls from Barack and Hillary -- stop!).

The local telco had an interesting reaction. First, they cost-ineffectively fedexed a letter imploring me to keep the already-cancelled service. After the inevitable happened, a courier showed up with a package: the full array of the Manhattan white and yellow pages. People, businesses, local, and neighborhood. It weighed a ton! Enclosed was a note from Verizon explaining I was getting the books "because of the recent change to your service."

The change was that the service was cancelled. Yet telcos are still accountable to, and dependent on revenue from, their directory advertisers. How long before revenues on both sides of the equation -- telephone subscribers and advertisers -- significantly diminishes?

Much was made this week about research from the NPD Group indicating U.S. cell phone handset sales just saw their first quarter of decline, ever. It's the economy, observers were quick to point out.

Well, maybe. But according to the CTIA, 84 percent of Americans already have cell phones. Could this first-time drop in sales (like declines in new broadband subscriptions) instead be a symptom of robust digital health?

Thing are getting very digital out there. How are your own media consumption habits changing? I'd like to know.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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