If you believe we’ve already been through the ‘big disruption’ in media, think again. The age of electronic media may have already arrived but we’re only now about to see the market-level structural changes that will be caused by these new means of production.
What is coming very quickly is rapid globalisation of media which will threaten, or at least impact, every Australian media brand and any related entities.
Media entities have always tended to be local organisations. There have been any number of reasons for this being the case — historical, political, legislative through to economic. Simply put, there have always been significant barriers to entry that have enabled local media powerhouses to fend off international competitors, and few economies of scale to overcome that inertia.
Right now, exactly the opposite is true. Today’s online media environment means that barriers to entry are incredibly low while there are major economies of scale created via global models.
Last week, Influencing that the Daily Mail is getting all of its ducks in a row to enable its Australian expansion, and that comes off the back of the Guardian’s incredibly into the Australian market. There aren’t too many major international news brands that haven’t launched international editions — and their becoming more tightly aligned and integrated with parent brands. For example, this week The International Herald Tribune as the International New York Times.
It’s not just the big newspapers heading down this route. Let’s take one of the Internet’s most powerful specialist brands — technology powerhouse CNET — which is on the verge of moving to a global model, following the lead of its sister masthead ZDNet which has already made that transition.
The model that is emerging very quickly is a single global brand, operating under a single content management system, with localised editions. These local editions give greater prominence to locally-created content, but for the most part they look and feel like the parent editions, seldom even operating under local domains.
For many global media brands, the only investment needed to put a stake in the ground in any given market is a local reporter on the ground. Indeed, given how much content can be generated without leaving one’s desk, that’s not even a pre-requisite. Increasingly sophisticated CMS platforms will make editorial placement decisions, based on algorithms rather than news sense; geo-targeted real-time ad bidding platforms are increasingly responsible for serving up the advertising you see and almost everything else that used to make up media operations can be handled electronically or centralised at headquarters. As we premised earlier, the barriers to entry for global expansion have basically been decimated.
On the flipside, the economies of scale for global media are massive. All of the investment pumped into these increasingly sophisticated content platforms can be leveraged across a global operation, content is better utilised and there are also huge search engine benefits in consolidating content under a single brand, given Google’s dislike for duplicate content. Social media, which is now at least as important as a masthead’s front page as a gateway to content, is also better served by having a single instance of content for readers to point to.
Indeed, the argument for global media brands are so compelling that I believe this will happen faster than anyone is expecting.
Give it two years and I think it’s a given that News and Fairfax will be battling the likes of the Guardian, the Daily Mail and New York Times as fiercely as they do each other. News Corp Australia will likely begin a massive consolidation of its brands online (which we’ve already seen the first steps towards in Australia via the News Plus brand), and if News goes in that direction, Fairfax will most likely have to follow suit with a single national brand. Media ownership laws are going to have to be reviewed quickly or else local media brands are going to get crushed under the tsunami of incoming global media goliaths.
There will, of course, be a massive impact on local journalism.
There will certainly be fewer Australian stories told, with local stories limited to “marquee” articles written for the home page, so as to at least give the impression that you’re reading a true local edition. However, if a story isn’t home-page worthy, it’s probably not going to be written at all. With so much international content, there is no longer any need to pad-out inside sections with anything other than newswire and international content.
That’s clearly going to impact related industries like the public relations sector, which is already struggling with the challenge of coming up with stories that might pass an online return-on-investment analysis. Media advertising sales is going to be focused on big-budget take-over advertisements and cross-media campaigns.
Whether these changes give rise to smaller media brands to tell the stories that big media can no longer economically justify telling is still yet to be played out, and that’s another topic in its entirety.
However, if you’re in the media sector or you work with the media sector, be prepared for this level of change. Because it’s coming and it’s coming very, very quickly.