Broadcast thinking will be the heart of successful print models: New year convictions

Not that TV model! Image from Flickr by C-Monster
Not that TV model! Image from Flickr by C-Monster

Yesterday I set out four new year convictions. Things that I thought where going to be important this year because, well, they had to be.

First was Broadcast thinking will be the heart of successful print models this year.

In the past I’ve been pretty hard on broadcast. I think they have been slow to embrace the possibilities of the web particularly in the context of news. On reflection I guess my disappointment with the broadcast media is framed as much in my frustration that  the print media didn’t embrace the advantage it gave them. But I still think broadcast are slow.

That said there are some elements of online development, most notably the development of the web as a platform, where the broadcast players are driving the agenda.  In that context I appreciate that I live in a country where all things broadcast are skewed by the BBC and that colours competition .  But I think it’s difficult to argue (though many will try – if you want to fill a lull in conversation with independent news execs just mention BBC innovation and sit back) that some of the BBC’s multi-platform activities have produced the “proof of concept “ that the rest of the media wouldn’t or couldn’t do. I’m thinking of the equally cursed and blessed iplayer in particular.  But this follows for the broadcasters outside the UK who have taken the web to heart as a platform.

I think Clay Shirky summed it up nicely when he talks about embracing the conversation, saying:

The question is who figures out the business model that says it’s better to have 6 million passionate fans than 7 million bored ones? That is going to be the transformation because what you see with these user groups, whether it’s for reality TV or science fiction, is that people love the conversation around the shows. The renaissance of quality television is an indicator of what an increased number of distribution channels can do. It is no accident that this started with cable.

And it’s that last point that is of particular importance to me when it comes to this particular conviction.

Let me sidetrack with a (very, very) brief history of broadcast

  1. Broadcast starts as a closed-shop; state broadcasters with large production capabilities.
  2. Then large, none-state, independent/commercial broadcasters appear with equally large production capabilities.
  3. Cable/satellite/multi-channel appear and change the economies of scale
  4. A steady influx of independent production companies appear, working across broadcasters benefiting from the changing economies

Let’s stop at that point

If I was to look at the print media at the moment, I think they are at step 3 after an extended period of step 2. And this is where there is plenty to learn from the broadcast model.

When I talk about a broadcast model I’m not thinking of the platform implications discussed above, important as they are, For me the broadcast model, particularly as it relates to the changes in journalism,  starts before that.  It’s about the way content is commissioned and produced.

Broadcast has always been good at recognising the need to bring in expertise. Originally it was about employing the talent, keeping it in house. But later, in the multi-platform world, it would be about commissioning that talent; People who had the knowledge and contacts to create the best content.

Opening up their model to a more transparent broadcast commissioning style of content creation is the biggest opportunity for those changing their model. They have to develop from the model of owning the talent to commissioning talent. Those that embrace that approach can benefit from having the best people and the audience they attract. The independent producers (perhaps a single journalist) maintain a level of authority and ownership. They can take their content to the open market (just as broadcast independents do). That creates a broader content economy that benefits all.

Of course things are not that shiny bright in broadcast.

The next steps in our little broadcast history go something along the lines of

  1. Though the number of channels grow, revenue shrinks. Commissioning budgets shrink with the knock on impact on independent producers. Quality suffers all round
  2. Independent companies follow the economies of scale and consolidate to super-indies
  3. Super indies take a stranglehold on production and garner more control over rights.
  4. Large broadcasters are relegated to participating in a bidding war for superindie owned rights they can’t afford.

You can colour round the edges with failed attempts at convergence and constant rows with independents and unions but that’s about where broadcast is now (Ok, maybe  they are stuck around point 3). Imagine those next steps played out in print world. Replace independent production company with journalist and it would seem the writing is on the wall.

But I think that we are at a turning point.  Done right, the commissioning model is sustainable because the platforms are more diverse but print can still have a sustainable business, smaller perhaps, but profitable because of the diversity. To seriously engage with the model print needs to start doing things a bit differently

  • Change its relationship with their freelance providers – stop treating them as faceless labour and start seeing them as value added.
  • Be more transparent with the sources of content – broadcasters have credits and a logo of the independent company at the end of their content, why doesn’t print?
  • Pro-actively commission – Broadcasters have slots and briefs for the programmes that they want. Print needs to do the same.  There is no better example of this than Dave Cohns model. A commission/marketplace model similar to broadcast.

If these things don’t change then the broadcast history will come to pass. We can already see signs of the superindie model appearing in the online territory print are trying to hold.  Print needs to adapt to make itself more attractive to those with the contacts and audience as the economy is fragmented by the platforms and the market becomes more fluid in favour of smaller independents.

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Interesting stuff for Monday

More marking today and I’m finding interesting things about Preston and the people there. I’m also learning a lot about what I need to teach people before they leave us for the uncertain “real-world”. We all learn from assignments in ivorytowerville.

So, whilst I digest tails of dogging (no, I’m not adding that to my tags), Chess, parks, boxing, teen pregnancy and the credit crunch here is the stuff that I’ve been distracting myself with.

Most of what I’ve been marking is stuff online so I was interested in a post from Sam Shepherd commenting on why subs are still vital(maybe more so) on the web in light of Press complaints commission ruling on the coverage of a mans suicide.“Standards, codes, ethics, quality; these rules still apply” I agree but perhaps that’s one of the tough pills to swallow in these leaner times. Perhaps we let the responsibility for that stuff slide. Time for individual journos to take back that skill?

Also pondering (or pontificating) on those leaner times is Paul Mason, economics editor of the BBC’s Newsnight programme and NUJ rep gives his views (on video) on the uncertain times ahead. Comment about this video has been sharp, particularly for his “pyjama bloggers” comment. But if you listen to the first 3 minutes that seems unfair .

Despite continuous goading by Tim Gopsil, Paul keeps his line. But 3 minutes in and Paul loses it. I think the question was worse than the rant that comes next “what’s the difference between the stuff that trained journalists produce and the poor stuff that badly trained people produce” What kind of a question is that!

Paul thinks that the union can be the gel that helps inform organisations going multimedia when the models are still not there. This does little to convince me that they can. Worse still it seems that the only way they can see to sustain the ‘craft of journalism’ is to help support the models that no longer work. Oooh, me blood is boiling just thinking about it.

A much better bet to get a handle on what we should be thinking about is Zac Echola’s Cutting the cords, bridging the gaps. Getting this online stuff is a journey not a destination and we have a while before industry aligns itself with the new audiences out there let alone those of us immersed in this stuff. Zac strikes a nice balance on this front and adds to the mix nicely. As does this post by Alex Gamela where he asks the media industry to think about whether this whole thing is about The vehicle, the road or the voyage

More intelligence on where we go next can be found at the Guardian who feature Clay Shirky’s predictions for the future of print and broadcast in the Guardian. For Print? Well “The 500-year-old accident of economics occasioned by the printing press – high upfront cost and filtering happening at the source of publication – is over.” and it don’t get much better for TV “The question is who figures out the business model that says it’s better to have 6 million passionate fans than 7 million bored ones?” Ouch.

In  a similar vein Telegraph digital editor Ed Rousell gives a dose of reality “For decades now, newspaper newsrooms have centered on “going to press,” which has meant pointing all efforts towards a single deadline that culminates in the publishing of a definitive version of a story.” And yet we still build the model round it. Shades of my mon0media funnel of despair come to haunt me.

By the way both of those links came via Mark Hamilton’s Daily Squibs -one of the most consistently useful things I read. Go see. It’s good pickings.

Go on! Shoo!