The Future of Newspapers (and Radio & TV)

Jeff Jarvis asked what newspapers will look like in 2020. It’s an interesting question because 13 years is a huge timeframe – when you consider what the past 13 years have wrought. But here’s a stab.

First the underlying processes technologies that are in evidence now, or in accelerated adoption cycles, will be the same processes and technologies that papers and media will be wrestling with in 2020.

That seems like a relatively bold prediction. The reason is that the buildout for the telecommunications infrastructure to support high speed data has occurred and for business reasons it will not be supplanted in 13 years. Sure there will be tweaks and faster speeds but the underlying issues remain the same. Mobility will increase but again that doesn’t fundamentally alter anything it just makes what’s already happening on the web more available. Same goes for what ever nomenclature you want for user contributed content – it will increase in prevalence and types adding to the competition for attention that has affected media so much recently.

Short term all media will blur looking more like each other – but longer term this will not prove competitive (because it pits media against each other and not the real competition) – and each media will revert to its area of strength (intimacy & community for radio, information & analysis for newspapers, and entertainment for TV).

Regardless of medium, media will solicit and incorporate more user content – not just because it makes sense to interact with your audience when your competition is. They’ll also do this because it reduces costs, increases connection with the medium and provides new value for advertisers. The latter will occur because advertisers will recognize that only few people will contribute to multiple communities – and few products are sticky enough to be among those few. The centralization and advertiser friendliness media provides will be seen as welcome for initiating & hosting these discussions.

Demographic changes will also affect media. Internet use will rise to about 90% of the population – as older people decrease in number and usage patterns established by today’s teens become common in older demographics. This will make competition for attention more intense. The rate of user generated content will not grow at the same rate – in part because it is a function of education and that will not change dramatically – but also because it depends on audience attention and that will not grow dramatically either (more popular sites will get a lot of the new traffic). 

None of this actually answers Jeff question however – so here goes.

Thirteen years from now newspapers will still be published – much as they are today – though they will be thinner and likely free. Their purpose will be to provide to entertainment during commutes and provide a non-browser interface to promote the papers web site(s) and content expertise. There is a possibility that weekend feature issues like the NY Times magazine will make resurgence – as they provide an avenue for in-depth reporting and higher cost advertising (because of the staying power of the issues).

The biggest changes will be in business models and how content is delivered. First media will come to recognize that they are as much in the advertising assembly business as they are in the ad delivery and content businesses. What they’ll recognize is that there is a large margin delta between what advertisers pay for Google and what Google pays most sites. Most of this delta can be attributed to the value of owning the relationship with the advertiser. Media will live in this delta providing more value to partner sites and better targeting to advertisers wanting regional and niche sites.

The relationship media will develop with a multitude of regional or topical sites around advertising also speaks to a new model for content distribution and creation. Site owners and authors already understand audience, traffic, readerships etc, and have tools to measure them. Media will use its’ ability to link to sites across mediums (web and internet) as the first tool in its reemergence. Media can build smaller sites traffic – and in doing so establish beachheads against attention overload – buy providing more sites where their advertising and content appears.

The other area where business models will change is around content distribution – with media acting as clearing houses, filters and store for a federated network sites that share content community and overlapping audiences.

Of course I could be all wrong as well.

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