Old Media Rejuvenate

Old media has taken a long, hard look in the mirror and decided it’s tired of being old.

A year ago, the television industry, spurred by the boom in online video, rushed breathlessly to the Web, experimenting in earnest for the first time with programming and advertising formats for the Internet and, even in some cases, mobile devices.

The trend continued throughout this past year as the Internet ceased to nibble delicately at traditional media companies’ balance sheets and started chomping big, juicy bites out of revenue sheets. That, in turn, has affected stock performance.

And nowhere is the Web effect more evident than in the newspaper industry. Soaring online ad revenues (up 23 percent in Q3 2006) aren’t making up for an overall slump in circulation and dead-tree revenue (down 2.6 percent in the same period, according to the Newspaper Association of America). Online readership is also up.

That’s enough to make you feel more than merely old. Newspapers are frightened. Lately, they’re frightened enough to do something about it. This past week, almost lemming-like, print media companies have made some deeply serious moves toward becoming more like new media.

Strange Bedfellows

One of the most stunning announcements, of course, was Gannett, McClatchy, and Tribune teaming up to collectively sell advertising across their Web properties. “The Wall Street Journal” calls it “a one-stop shop for online ads.” You could also view it as an ad network.

“Open Network,” as the endeavor is working-titled, is aimed at capturing spend from the telco, automotive, and other major national campaigns local newspapers have had trouble securing in recent years with one consolidated buy. Now, this is an experiment. It’s rumored each player is throwing only 10 percent of its inventory into the pot. My hunch is this won’t be premium-placement media. Bells and whistles such as behavioral targeting are likely out of the question.

The initiative is yet to launch — and could still crumble. It’s hardly unprecedented. As early as 1995, nine media giants made a similar alliance under the moniker New Century Network. It crumbled soon thereafter due to the lack of a unified vision.

There’s another potential consortium out there. Seven other major newspaper groups aligned with Yahoo in November (two more have since joined the group). MediaNews, Hearst, Scripps, Cox, Lee, Belo, and Journal Register hammered out a deal involving job classifieds, with the potential for much more. Now the group is said to be in the late stages of finalizing its own national ad network deal (though some doubt very much this will come to fruition).

Halting Deforestation?

A dozen competitive news organizations are aligning in the hopes of survival, and both the “New York Times” and “Wall Street Journal” are undertaking major redesigns with an eye toward being Web-friendlier. But Scripps may take the most drastic step of all. After over 100 years as a newspaper publisher, the company may sell off its 18 newspaper properties, according to Bloomberg. “We don’t want an asset that’s generating less cash next year than it is this year,” CFO Joe Necastro is reported to have said at a Citigroup conference this week.

The company expects nearly negligible growth in its newspaper sector this year, while other holdings, such as cable network HGTV and comparison-shopping sites Shopzilla and uSwitch, are doing just fine, thank you.

Ad Network — Or Ad Agency?

When Gannett bought rich media ad firm PointRoll a year and a half ago, eyebrows raised (Scripps picked up Shopzilla that same week). This week, the stakes in the media cum advertiser game got even higher when Meredith acquired not one but two interactive agencies: Genex and New Media Strategies. Last year, the company had acquired O’Grady Meyers, a smaller interactive shop.

As a publisher, Meredith now counts buzz marketing capabilities among its offerings and has a portfolio of advertisers as clients outside its customer publishing business, including Honda, Toyota, and Citigroup.

Of course, not all the old media mutton dressed as lamb was limited to print this past week. CBS’ Leslie Moonves, appearing at CES with Web. 2.0 luminaries Chad Hurley of YouTube and Philip Rosedale of Linden Labs announced a slew of new online initiatives, telling the crowd, “There’s no such thing as old or new media anymore. We’re just media.”

And NBC debuted its new reality show, “Grease.” Web tie-ins with reality programming are yesterday’s papers, but this may be the first time such an initiative extends to the footlights of Broadway (strictly-for-tourists Broadway, but still).

And next week? Well, for one thing, Google has invited New York’s book publishers to an event it’s pretty much billing as the biggest thing since Gutenberg.

No telling how all this will shake out, but it promises to be a good read.

Rebecca is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

Meet Rebecca at SES San Jose on August 20-23, in San Jose, California.

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