Can Traditional Media Companies Ever Become Non-Traditional?

How many times have you heard about traditional media companies having their lunch eaten by digital start up companies?  How can this be? Shouldn’t “traditional” companies be well positioned with an established business and loyal customers?

The primary reason is they focus too much on tradition and business models of the past.  Start ups look to fill in gaps that traditional companies leave exposed because they are usually not core pursuits.  Once the start up steals business the traditional business tends to think of the lost business as a small subset of the overall business.  The vicious cycle begins and the business begins to erode first by incremental losses and ultimately leading to significant losses.

So how does a traditional media company become non-traditional?  My hope is to discuss the many aspects of this effort over the course of several blog posts.  This particular post will be discussing an acquisition strategy versus a transition strategy.

Acquisition strategy versus transition strategy

From the late 90’s up to today most of the strategies related to digital content have been around re-creating experiences of core print products online.  Even with the advent of smart phones, much of the same information in print still act as the base for efforts online and in mobile.  Many of the new iPad products coming out of newspaper and magazine businesses are closer to replica editions of the print product than they are truly innovative.

Here’s what Damon Kiesow from Poynter Institute had to say:

So far those opportunities have gone largely unexploited as media companies try to figure out exactly what tablets are good for. As I noted last month, most of the U.S. newspaper apps to launch recently on the iPad are replica editions — basically PDFs of the printed product. While there may be a small audience for these replicas, this is a transitional model at best and will do nothing to build new audiences on tablets.

Likewise, many interactive newspaper apps are a lot like print products — but not necessarily in a good way. Apps from USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are well designed, but they still offer the same type of content as in print, with a similar look and feel.

The Augusta Chronicle ipad app from Morris Communications is an example of a replica edition.

With the ever declining subscription base of business and the disdain for newspaper and magazine print products by our youth, focusing on transition is a one way street with an uncertain ending.  I believe traditional media businesses need to use digital strategies as a way of acquiring a new rather than transitioning old audiences.  I’m not saying that transition isn’t important, but it does not address the need for new audience.

The pursuit of a younger audience

With the launch of the iPad, a major opportunity has presented itself in terms of gaining new audience .  The primary age group purchasing iPads is 35-45.  The second largest group is 25-34.  Both of these age demographics are not large users of print products especially newspapers.  Building a content experience around the iPad and a younger audience is exactly the pursuit required in traditional media.  If successful, it rationalizes building products based on an audience and not around a one size fits all strategy.

Elements of an audience acquisition strategy

So what does it mean to pursue audience acquistion strategy?  Without getting into every detail, there are two key areas to pay attention to.

Content:

The most important item is content.  Our research has shown that the younger demographic likes much of the same information as an older demographic but the level of importance is different.  Subjects like things to do, celebrities and photos are much more important than local politics.  Traditional topics such as commentary, classified ads and obituaries don’t even have a place in the product.

Once you have the content in place for the audience you seek you now need to make sure it is written with some text but in many cases a photo library or video will do more to tell the story than printed words.  It should also be noted that in many cases the type of content required may not be readily accessible from your own content centers.  You have to be willing to license content from other sources if you really want to build content specific to an audience.

Technology:

Another area that is critical but sometimes overlooked is the experience the audience has with the technology.  If we are talking about iPad, the expectation is for a robust experience inclusive of video, audio, photos, text and interaction with content.  A pdf just doesn’t cut it.

As mentioned these are just a few high level considerations, but just thinking through the impact to a traditional media company is complex.

In the end, the most important aspect of any strategy is business growth.  Growth has to include increasing audiences.  In these early days of the tablet, moving people from print to online and tablets is important but not as critical as grabbing new audiences. We have a clear opportunity to be the first mover before the well funded startups get going.

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