Digital pioneers reaped worthwhile benefits

Mar 21, 2012
Digital pioneers thrive while traditionalists struggle in the ever-evolving media landscape, embracing cultural change and innovative strategies to capitalize on the vast potential of digital platforms.
When the first Internet bubble burst at the beginning of the last decade, the editors of the major media smiled with schadenfreude, happy that, in the end, the Internet was nothing more than a fad. Shortly thereafter, with the recovery, the vast majority of them admitted that digital was inevitable and that they were determined to bet heavily on the new media. A decade after the end of the bubble, companies that had the courage to adopt a policy for digital media are far ahead, while traditionalists are clinging to an anchor after the shipwreck.
On the list of media originating from the most popular news companies, the only conglomerate that has top numbers among the digital haters is the News Corporation, of the billionaire Australian Rupert “Darth Vader” Murdoch, naturally not taking into account aggregators (i.e., Google and Yahoo) nor social-related sites (i.e., Reddit). All other companies opened specific departments for “new media” shortly after the first bubble burst. The BBC has had a new media department since 2003; the Guardian decided to bet on digital in a machete fight on their board that same year; NYT and CNN took longer to dive into online, but even before that, they already had teams taking care of it.
Even models that raised serious doubts about their functionality, like the paywall (that is, the scheme of access by monthly or annual payment) are beginning to succeed in some cases, such as in the NYT, which is close to reaching half a million subscribers and even in the digital hater The Times, which has already exceeded the 100,000 subscriber mark. The cases differ (the NYT experienced a subscription explosion with the arrival of Apple's Newsstand, where it downloaded half a million apps per week on mobiles in each of the first four weeks; The Times exploited its existing subscriber base and probably has a much lower “ceiling” than the NYT), but the fact is that even the most ingrained print culture companies realized that digital has great possibilities as long as there is a cultural change within the company, with a convergence in the focus of coverage and not in a silly replication of content to sell the same thing twice to users of very different profiles.
The “veteran” of the new media department, BBC, today already gives a show in the coverage of live events like the tragedy of the Toulouse shooter. Strong from its TV expertise, the BBC gives a show of images assisting the coverage coming from a series of other sources (such as photos, maps, and supporting profiles). Social media tools for journalists should be added soon and are already being studied in the company's digital department.
The generation of digital revenue to offset the loss of print is still pitiful. For every dollar earned more in digital, seven are lost in print. The newspaper industry is the one that shrinks the most in the United States and newsrooms are getting smaller and smaller. The situation only gets worse because companies want to adapt reality to their situation and not the other way around.
Thinking about formatting means to cover news in digital media with the structure set up for the agonizing print is pure and simple suicide. A note from 233grados shows how Google is seen as a simple parasite of news services, but almost no one outside the digital elite is thinking about how to capitalize on the absurdly large exposure that Google News gives to content producers. Just like the explosion of delivery through digital on mobile devices, also the service of aggregators can bring new revenues that decrease the impact of the loss of print. This ends up meeting one of the commandments of digital sustainability, which is the pulverization of revenue in several products. And still speaking of mobiles: in terms of audience, the new "Old West" to be explored is there, and zillions of dollars to be won are at the disposal of whoever arrives first.
Companies like the Guardian, the BBC, the NYT, and CNN have gained a good advantage over competitors, but the laggards may not turn into fossils embedded in stone telling the chronology of journalism. Several companies have enough capital to bear the losses that the migration from print to digital requires and yet be able to achieve sustainability in the future. But time is running out. The model of reselling content on various media and maintaining one of the media as the “main” one of the company is exhausted. Only markets that have a much stronger player than the others can afford this luxury and even so, for now. The mediasaurs that insist on “tradition” have guaranteed exposure in a future natural history museum of the media.

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