CICIORA’S CORNER: Media morphing

Tue, 07/31/2007 - 8:15pm
Walter S. Ciciora, Ph.D., Recognized Industry Expert on Cable and Consumer Electronics Issues

The media world is going through major changes. That’s about the only thing that can be said for sure. Where these changes end up is anybody’s guess. This, of course, goes to my “Genius/Fool Theory.” Those who guess will be called “geniuses” if they are correct and “fools” if they are not. The difference between genius and fool will be determined only by time.

Walter S. CicioraThe biggest trends we see include more choice and attempts to deal with that flood of choice by personalization. These trends are having a major impact on conventional media.

Media morphing in print media is important to understand because it drives the culture and expectations for other media, such as video.

A stop at the airport or train news stand reveals a huge selection of magazines, most of which are very specialized. Clearly, they have buyers or they wouldn’t be there. When I worked for Time Warner, I remember reading that Sports Illustrated took about a decade before it became profitable. One of my favorite Time Warner magazines, Discovery, got sold because it took too long to turn the corner. A similar long term process story describes the birthing of the USA Today newspaper. The economics of publishing have had to change or we wouldn’t have this diversity today.

There’s an alarming trend in publishing. Printing and distribution costs continue to climb, while advertising is spread out over a bigger selection of media. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reduced its paper’s width from six columns to just five. Lately, the paper is thinner and thinner. I was shocked by this morning’s issue. If it was adequate to be used to wrap fish for the freezer, the fishing trip would have been a major disappointment!

Going to the Wall Street Journal Web site provides not only a PDF copy of the whole newspaper, but supplementary materials that more than double what is available. Some are free and some require a modest yearly subscription. Web subscribers have access to issues from the last 90 days, a nice feature. The print version includes multiple listings of additional material available “online,” but not in the paper edition.

Recent news stories focused on whether one of the San Francisco newspapers will be the first major newspaper to go digital only. This will be interesting to watch. Several other newspapers are up for sale or are receiving purchase offers. The Wall Street Journal and a major Boston paper are having such experiences. The potential buyers are looking for bargains.

I’ve been puzzled by the continued publishing of several pages of fine print listing stocks and other securities. It seems that anyone who is an active securities trader, does it online. Yesterday’s prices are just too old to be of use. Investors need this minute’s prices. Furthermore, most older investors have difficulties with the fine print. Also, the number of securities far exceeds the space available. So these pages are essentially useless. Maybe the same explanation applies that would answer why we have tachometers in essentially all cars with automatic transmissions: “We’ve always done it that way.”

A number of trade magazines offer either a digital version or a print version. I think I’ve had to make that choice on all of the trade publication renewals this year. It probably shows my age, but I took “print” every time. The Transactions of the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society are offered in an electronic version for members. A print copy subscription is optional at extra cost. Unlike nearly all of the other technical publications, this publication allows you to have both the electronic and print versions. That may be because there is no advertising in this IEEE publication.

The Web not only allows less expensive distribution, but it makes greatly expanded coverage possible. For example, I have a print subscription to Design News magazine (free). Last month's issue was focused on the engineering aspects of the Boeing 787. The issue was extremely well done. And all of the articles are available online along with some fascinating video clips and links to other Web sites. I especially enjoyed this issue because we recently took the Boeing factory tour. I highly recommend spending some time with these articles (and also the factory tour). The 787 is a really amazing plane.

Of course, CED has made terrific use of the Web to enhance its publication, and I’m assuming you already take full advantage of that. The Web-based tutorials are of special importance and value. Make sure you never miss those!

Just a few years ago, the Web versions of magazines and newspapers were very limited. Now they provide us “on-demand” features that are unavailable in print.

The consumer’s experience with print media sets the video expectation. Video-on-demand is leading to everything-on-demand. TiVo and its cousins are part of user-controlled on-demand. But the digital video recorder (DVR) requires an advance decision to capture a program. The ultimate media morph for video is likely to be all programming on-demand.

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