POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 28, 2011:
Media Storms and Breezes
OKC's big paper gets acquired and other notes
The mediascape -- the market "space" of newspapers, radio/TV, magazines and an ever-larger bevy of online news/entertainment ventures is in a state of flux in Oklahoma and nationally. You can witness it in things large and small: some folks say the confusing OU & OSU football conference "crisis" we've experienced in the last week or so is, at root, a roiling argument about TV revenues, commentator loyalties and the pain of ball team media investigations.
The Oklahoman Is Acquired
The recent purchase of the Oklahoman by Colorado billionaire Phillip Anschutz may not be a terribly interesting event, or maybe it is too soon to tell.
Anschutz is a political conservative who may change little at the also right-leaning Oklahoman: but it does add a little to the uncomfortable feeling that Oklahoma is becoming something of a "colonial" outpost as a growing number of our big, in-state enterprises revert to out-of-state owners.
Anschutz also owns the Weekly Standard, a conservative Republican opinion magazine, the Washington (DC) Examiner, a mid-sized daily metro paper, with a conservative orientation as well and the west coast San Francisco Examiner. Indications are that the paper is in good financial shape: but like most "big" metro papers the Oklahoman is under an array of dramatic middle run assualts in the ad revenue, reader count and subscriber arenas.
This is what the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, in its annual "checkup" report on the state of play in U.S. media says in its 2011 issue:
"Among the major (media) sectors, only newspapers saw continued revenue declines last year -- an unmistakable sign that the structural economic problems facing newspapers are more severe than those of other media. When the final tallies are in, we estimate 1,000 to 1,500 more newspaper jobs will have been lost -- meaning newspaper newsrooms are 30 percent smaller than in 2000".
According to veteran news executive/author Jon Meacham, the media environment is very volatile and the velocity of change is accelerating. Daily newspapers will continue to lose readers and ad revenue substantially; and the response will be fewer beats and leaner coverage of many traditional lines.
A different part of this fevered evolution: continued fragmentation in media audiences and worldviews. MSNBC viewers, Wall Street Journal readers, NPR listeners, New York Times readers, 700 Club viewers and FOX News folks are practically beings from different planets.
Part of the programming logic here is an economic dynamic and what media wonks call narrowcasting.
What impact all this niche "pitching" is having nationally, on our quality of community and civic engagement, merits more attention than it gets.
Another part of the froth: the astonishing success of Apple's iPad, the first "post-computer" -- a multi-functional device that comes very close to being a full substitute for books, newspapers and magazines. The Ipad is also wildly popular among the young and seniors -- two super critical groups that, for very different reasons, are core to the future of newspapers and their online re-incarnation.
Wall Street Journal media/tech maven Walter Mossberg says that it seems extremely likely that tablet like devices will rapidly replace most conventional computers, re-craft the way most folks interact with the net and transform our nexus to magazines, interactive media, video, games, newspapers and books-. This new path has huge implications for publications here and elsewhere -- other observers argue convincingly that the iPad is a portal to a new space where newspapers can finally make an economically healthy switch to the digital world.
Alternative newspapers, with vastly lower cost structures, more provocative content, a strong online presence and exceptionally competitive ad rates -- like the Gazette in Oklahoma City, Urban Tulsa Weekly and This Land Press in Tulsa, will continue to cannibalize a healthy fraction of the ad dollars and readers who are wandering away from print papers and the end of the pre-digital world.
In any case, it looks as though the accelerating migration of ads and viewers to the online world also means living in a world where online ads fetch a fraction of what they would in the brick and mortar world -- this is the supreme challenge for any media venture that wants to build a sustainable business model.
The Great Break Away and Off Grid World
Another force in play goes by the entangled title of "disintermediation" -- it's already happening in the financial services world.
Imagine a ball club decides it can continue to reach its fans, but produce superior revenues, and more responsive coverage by striking up a deal directly with say, Apple via its iTunes/Apple TV initiative or with Netflix's through its hyper aggressive streaming services. Both offerings allow people access to video or live sports content without cable or satellite service -- all via the magic of "fat pipes" -- extremely high speed/broad gauge net connections.
Media lawyer and former Tulsa TV news host Doug Dodd (disclosure -- Dodd is an attorney for Urban Tulsa Weekly and a long time friend of mine) reminds me that the "Texas Network" and Norte Dame's long standing "solo" TV venture already have low tech versions of these arrangements. A university or pro team could "stream" its games and deliver via Netflix's steaming service or the router/video streamer that Apple calls Apple TV, all without sharing revenues with a cable operator or a TV network.
Fans could view football games on regular TV's, on computers, on smart phones or on tablet devices. Direct, off-grid distribution could give a team or a college ball conference unimagined control of distribution and arguably hike revenue substantially, although they may be switching one hegemon -- cable ops/broadcast networks -- for another set of giants -- Apple, Google or Netflix.
This new landscape is a radical rework that could help filmmakers, TV show creators, publishers and athletic teams navigate around cable, mainstream media and traditional gatekeepers and re-imagine their offerings. And it has huge implications for the broadcast and cable industry and for print publications like the Tulsa World and the new Oklahoman -- and soon dear reader, for you as well.
You may not be interested in all the gathering media tumult -- but it is interested in you.
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