Saturday, December 26, 2009

THE WIDENING RANGE OF REVENUE SOURCES IN NEWS ENTERPRISES

It is obvious that both the offline and online news providers are in the midst of substantial transformation and that the traditional means of funding operations are no longer as viable as in the past. This is disturbing to the industry because it has enjoyed several decades of unusual financially wealth and few in the organizations know how to find and generate new sources of revenue.

The financial uncertainty facing the industry is not unusual, however. We tend to forget that news has historically been unable to pay for itself and was subsidized by other activities. In the past newspapers and other news organizations engaged in a far larger range of commercial activities than then they do today and publishers had to be highly entrepreneurial and seek income from a wide variety of sources in order to survive.

The initial gathering and distribution of news was paid for by emperors, monarchs, and other rulers who needed information for state purposes. Later, wealthy international merchants hired correspondents to gather and relay news that might affect their businesses. When news became a commercial product, newspaper publishers subsidized the operations with profits from printing books, magazines, pamphlets, and advertising sheets, income for editors from shipping and postal employment, profits from operating book shops and travel agencies, and subsidies from communities and political and social organizations.

Today, however, news organizations are struggling to maintain themselves and develop digital operations by primarily focusing on the two revenue streams they have known in recent decades: subscriptions and advertising. Many people are being disappointed because those are failing to provide sufficient financial resources to sustain their operations.

The need to seek income from multiple sources is clear, but runs somewhat counter to the values of twentieth-century professional journalism, which denigrates commercial activity and thus engenders organizational resistance to new business initiatives. Continuing staff reductions and other budgetary cutbacks are eroding some internal opposition, but are rightfully leading to questions about how far one goes down the commercial road before news gives up its independence.

In both the online and offline news worlds, a wide variety of revenue generating activities are appearing—some based on traditional subscriber/single copy sales and advertising sales—but many others moving into new areas of monetization.

Many news organizations are increasing the range of advertising services provided to sell and create ads for their own media products, but also to provide clients services that can be used in competing products as well. New types of advertising offerings are being created to link across platforms, sponsorships of online and mobile news headlines are developing, video advertising is being offered online, and special “deals of the day” advertising spots are being offered.

Some organizations are increasing their product lines producing paid premium products and niche content for professional groups and persons with special interests; some are providing business service listings for a fee; others are creating a variety of non-news products; still others are operating additional business units creating paid events, running caf├ęs, book and magazine shops, and providing training and education activities.

Sales of other products and services are being increasingly embraced through e-commerce (linking published reviews films, performances, and recordings to sites where customers can buy tickets, DVDs, CDs, etc.), creating and selling lists and databases of local businesses and consumers, producing special reports and books, selling photographs and photography services, and even selling items such as computers and appliances.

A growing number of news organizations are seekings subsidies though reader memberships and donations and grants from community and national foundations.

These are healthy developments because they increase the opportunities to create revenue that can fund news activities. Obviously, the abilities and willingness of different news enterprises to engage in the range activities vary widely, but the fact that they are appearing show that news organizations are beginning to adjust to the new environment and becoming more entrepreneurial than they have been for many decades.

What is needed now is not knee-jerk opposition to these efforts from news personnel, but thoughtful development of realistic principles and processes to minimize any negative effects of these new initiatives on news content so that trust and credibility are not diminished.

Monday, December 21, 2009

IMPLICATIONS OF CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF MEDIA MARKETS

An important contemporary development is the shift of media market definitions from traditional platform-based definitions to functional definitions. This is occurring because media product platform definitions are losing their specificity and uniqueness due to digitalization and cross-platform distribution developments.

Newspapers are becoming news providers, delivering news and information via print, online, mobile, and other platforms; broadcasters are moving off the radio spectrum, exploiting not only other streaming and video-on-demand opportunities, but also text-based communication on web and mobile platforms.

Although functional definitions clarify what companies actually do, they obscure wide differences in audiences, business relations, and revenue sources on the different platforms and give some the mistaken impression that a functionally defined operation can be successful operating the same way across the different platform environments. The functional definition is also confusing some policy makers and regulators concerned with effects of cross-media activity, consolidation, and concentration who do not carefully sort out the different elements of product and geographic market definitions among the platforms.

From the business standpoint, the fundamental problem of the functional definitions is that it leads many content providers to believe they can simply repurpose existing content across platforms. They are happy to do so because the marginal cost is near zero, but they ignore the facts that it also commoditizes the content, that the content losses uniqueness, and that similar presentation may not be appropriate on other platforms. Consequently, the repurposed content can produce only a small marginal increase in revenue.

To ultimately be successful in functional markets, companies need to offer a good deal of new content and launch new products on the new platforms rather than merely reusing what is already there in the traditional ways. Leading cable channels, for example, early in their development relied on motion pictures and syndicated programs previously shown on network television, but soon realized that they needed original programming to attract better audiences and gain additional revenue. Financial newspapers have begun to get it right on the Internet, offering more content and tools than in their print editions and establishing specialized niche products for different types of industry and business readers.

We are all watching to see who among general content providers manages to get their functional approach to markets right using the Internet, Mobile, e-Readers, and other platforms.

MEDIA, INNOVATION, AND THE STATE

There is a growing chorus for governments to help established media transform themselves in the digital age. From the U.S. to the Netherlands, from the U.K. to France, governments are being asked to help both print and broadcast media innovate their products and services to help make them sustainable.

State support for innovation is not a new concept. Support of cooperate research initiatives involving the state, higher education institutions, and industries has been part of national science and industrial policies for many decades. There has been significant state support for innovation of agriculture/food products, electronics, advanced military equipment, information technology, and biomedical technology and products.

State support tends to work best in developing new technologies and industries and tends to focus support on advanced basic scholarly research through science and research funding organizations, creation and support for research parks and industrial development zones for applied research, and incentives and subsidies for commercial research and development.

Many governments also support efforts to transform established industries. These are typically designed to promote productivity and competitiveness as a means of preserving employment and the tax base. In the past there has been some support for technology transfer from electronics and information technology to existing industries and for retraining, facilities reconstruction, and entering new markets.

Trying to apply those kinds of research and transformation policies in media is challenging, however, because much of media activities tend to be non-industrial and are dependent on relatively rigid organizational structures and processes that are difficult to change. These factors are complicated by the facts that media engage in negligible research and development activities, have limited experience with product change and new product development, and tend to have limited links to higher education institutions.

It is clear that a growing number of managers in media industries understand the need for innovation because of the declining sustainability of current operations and because Internet, mobile, e-reader, and on-demand technologies are providing new opportunities. The real innovation challenges in established media, however, are not perceiving the need for change or being able to get needed technology, but organizational structures, processes, culture, and ways of thinking that limit willingness and ability to innovate. This is compounded because many managers are confused by the opportunities and don’t know what to do or how pursue innovation.

Today, the innovation challenge facing media—especially newspapers--is not mere modernization, but fundamentally reestablishing their media functions and forms. What is needed is a complete rethinking of what content is offered, where, when and how it is provided, what new products and services should be provided and what existing ones dropped, how content will differ and be superior to that of other providers, how to establish new and better relationships with consumers, how the activities are organized and what processes will be employed, what relationships need to be established with partners and intermediaries, and ultimately how the activities are funded.

The state’s ability to influence media innovation of this type is highly constrained. Governments worldwide have proven themselves ineffectual in running business enterprises and they have limited abilities to affect organizational structures, processes, culture, and thinking in existing firms. What governments can do, however, is to fund research that identifies threats, opportunities and best practices, provide education and training to promote innovation and help implement change, offer incentives or subsidies to cover transformation costs and support new initiatives, and help coordinate activities across industries.

These kinds of support will be helpful, but they will not be a panacea because the greatest impetus for and implementation of change and innovation must come from within companies. The support will only be helpful if companies are actually willing to innovate and change to support that innovation. The extent they are willing to do so remains to be seen.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No Christmas Business, But...



Hello Show Attenders,

Following a spectacular Holiday Spectacular show with THREE guests (Louis Katz, Amy Dresner and Chris Thayer), The Business will be dark for the Christmas holiday week. However, we will be back for a big New Years Eve Eve show on Wed Dec 30th 2009. No secrets revealed yet, but plans are in the works for some knockout guests.





...and as Jan crests on the horizon, The Business is proud to ba a part of SF Sketchfest 2010 on both Thur Jan 21st and Friday Jan 22nd. Still at the Dark Room, but joined by new guests and other great sketch groups. Check www.sfsketchfest.com for more details. These will be the only Business shows until February, so come by and get your Biz Fix.

THANKS FOR ALL THE SUPPORT IN 2009!

Sincerely,
The Businessmen