Creativity is more important as media fragments
Another significant short-term pressure is media fragmentation. This has been driven by television price inflation and falling audiences, as media consumption habits change. Developing technologies have given birth to new media such as personal computers, the internet and interactivity. They have also altered the economics of traditional media such as newspapers and magazines, while media such as radio, outdoor and cinema have improved their offerings through better marketing and research.
Few traditional media owners have managed to deal with the disintermediation by new technologies. Take the website Craigslist, for example. Established in 1995 by Craig Newmark, the site provides largely free classified advertising to millions of users across the globe. The result – a massive reduction in classified advertising revenues for the traditional players. It is estimated that Craigslist costs newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area up to $65 million a year in employment advertising alone.
The response from traditional classified advertisers is to produce their own free classified sites. The effect: a permanent reduction in classified advertising revenues, as established classified media owners justify their activities as necessary cannibalisation. If they don't eat their own children, someone else will. After all, the internet is probably the most democratic phenomenon we have seen: free information or nearly free information breaking the tyranny or monopoly of distance.
Few newspaper or periodical publishers have mastered the connection with the new internet platforms. Hence Rupert Murdoch's recent conferences with his editors, as well as his decision to re-examine NewsCorp's new media approach, with McKinsey engaged to look at it, and his rapid and successful purchases of internet assets such as MySpace.
Similar initiatives have come from network television: NBC owned by GE with iVillage and ITV in the UK with Friends Reunited. Others such as the The New York Times have made similar moves, but none seem to have been able to replace the lost revenues with new ones. And will NBC still be a part of GE in a few years? Will it be sold or spun-off? Will it merge with a company like Yahoo! or another internet company? It's difficult to be just in the network television business; you have to be in the communications business. Not dissimilar to the late Professor Theodore Levitt's analysis of the horse and buggy in the context of the transportation industry.
Perhaps the mistake was not to charge for content on the web in the first place. It is easier to take the consumer down in price, rather than up. If you can't charge for content as strong as Condé Nast's Vogue or The Wall Street Journal , for example, when can you? It was interesting that Rupert Murdoch made it clear at Davos last January that he would continue to charge for some Wall Street Journal content. Maybe the internet has resulted in a permanent reduction in the revenues and profitability of traditional media owners?
As a result, clients are re-examining the relative levels of their advertising and marketing services investment. Does it make sense to shift their portfolio of media investment away from network television to cable, satellite, radio, outdoor, cinema, direct, public relations, interactive, internet or whatever? The econometric analysis of media investment is becoming increasingly important. How much should we spend, and through which media, have become the critical questions – the Holy Grail of advertising. The answer to which half of advertising is wasted.
Among the latest media innovations are PVRs, which enable viewers to download television programs on to a hard disk. The PVR enables you to build your own television channel, recording programs for screening when you want to see them, and to build a library, as an Apple iPod does with music. A PVR also allows you to time-shift programs as you watch, stopping for breaks whenever you wish. It cannot be long before they are standard equipment in television sets.
What has made observers particularly excited about the PVR is its ability to fast-forward or skip commercials. Market research in the US indicates that consumers like to fast-forward advertisements – although they stop at beer commercials for fun and car commercials for information.
We could do most of this previously with television video recorders, of course, and the key question remains the amount of time viewers will continue to devote to television viewing. In some PVRs, the skip button has been omitted and fast-forward speeds are limited. In others, little boxes on the PVR screen will contain details of the ads being fast-forwarded.
Whatever the outcome, such devices will exert more pressure on network television and on agencies to develop stronger programming and sponsorship opportunities, along with even more creative advertising ideas. The same will be true of video-on-demand, another new and fast-developing technology. The premium on creativity can only grow.