New Media: Through the Great Inflection Point

Somewhere out there is a media company executive who’s his head is stuck neck-deep in the sand. Most executives used to be like him, but he’s now the only one who hasn’t noticed the huge changes happening in media over the past several years.

For decades, those changes had been forecast to occur sometime during the 21st century, but we thought they would occur much later in this century. Those changes are occurring now, and everyone knows it. Everyone, that is, except this guy who thinks he’s in a sand trap near the 17th green and that it’s still 1998.

His compatriots are well aware what year it is. Most of them are cowering in the clubhouse, wondering if and how the digital storm will change their game. Nonetheless, many still delude themselves into thinking that the future will be like the past and that they can keep their same balls and swing.

All around them, a storm of headlines screams the changes:

And those headlines are just from this week.

It’s no longer a question of if there will be major changes in the media environment — or when. Major changes have begun, and the only questions left are how long the changes will take and what the world of media will be like afterwards.

Most senior media company executives, particularly those over 40, hope they will be short and, at worst, incremental changes. Many delude themselves into thinking the Wall Street debacle caused the current turmoil (such as headlines indicate).

Most senior media company executives pray that their world return to “normal” once the economy recovers in perhaps 12 to 24 months. They hope the current turmoil is merely cyclical and will eventually go away. They remember previous recessions (1980-1982, 1990-1991) that didn’t really change their world. Those are comforting thoughts.

Yet the changes now underway, changes that had been forecast for decades to occur this century, are fundamental (or as stock analysts say, “secular”) and anything but cyclical or short-term.

We’re passing through a great inflection point, when new media business models and new media business practices are no longer an alternative or a sideshow but are the new mainstream of media.

S&P might someday soon rate NYTCo’s debt above “junk” level. The “Star-Ledger” might someday hire more journalists. Advertising agencies that don’t specialize in digital media might again win major accounts. But media industries will never again be as they were five years ago. The past is over.

Media executives’ challenge is no longer how to use new media to do what traditional media did. The shovelware (define) era is over. The challenge now is how to use new media as if traditional media had never existed — to utilize new media’s myriad advantages over traditional media.

We no longer live in world predominately of broadcast or printed media and of standalone media outlets. We now live in a digitally networked world of increasingly individualized delivery of metadata-driven, semantic content.

New media business plans and practices that once sounded esoteric aren’t scoffed at anymore; they’re now the mainstream. Media executives who used to worry that trying something radical online might be a career error are now worrying that their lack of daring online might have been their career errors.

Meanwhile, media companies that once felt wedded to traditional forms of media must learn that divorce is now acceptable, even encouraged for future happiness. For example, one savvy traditional media company is using online-only methods to invade other traditional media companies’ market.

Forget about that media company executive who still has his head stuck in the sand. A generation from now, perhaps there will be an online video show like “Mad Men” that focuses on how outrageously unfair, odd, and quaint life in 1990s media companies was. Millennia from now, our media executive’s bones, like those of the dinosaurs, will be dug up by scientists who’ll try to figure out how he sustained himself, what type of environment he lived in, and how the environmental changes killed him. Perhaps they’ll even reassemble his remains with some semblance of accuracy, and our descendents will be able to examine him online.

Traditional media is dead. The future is today. Welcome to a new media world!

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