What New Media Can Learn By Watching Television

June 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Did I mention that I think Doug Weaver says some very smart things about the Internet business? Here’s an example from his blog, “The Drift”, yesterday.  

“All we ever seem to talk about in web marketing circles is the technology that will help us regather the television audience diaspora.  In a world where mass is just a memory, we pine to become the new mass.   Both network TV and basic cable channels seem to be doing fine with the new economics that surround TV’s creative renaissance, so is it possible that the smartypants web folks might just be missing the point?   That by overvaluing our audience-aggregation technologies and undervaluing our audience-delighting creative instincts we might just be dressing for a game that nobody is playing anymore.”

You may want the background to what he’s saying – all to do with declining mass reach of television audiences transitioning into higher quality niche programming – so go read the blog. The above paragraph, however, stands on its own. It describes the pervasive irony of new media which is, and has been, the extent to which its players want to be like old media: massive, like the good old days of broadcast television.

So went the history of portals online and, as it has been argued in this space before, the history of AOL and Time Warner. So, indeed, might go the history of audience-aggregation technology. Fundamentally new media wants to be old media, starting with the desire to be big.

Of course, being “big” (as opposed to, say, the best) is a peculiar pathology of business that can be left to the experts. But I have marveled over the years at how hard it has been for interested third parties –people in the capital markets, for instance – to grasp the smaller scale and relative value of niche content online, which was the obvious consumer bonanza brought about by the industry.

“How do the people developing these sites make money?” has been the question of the interested third parties, the question underneath really being, “How do they make serious money, like TV networks makes money?” And, if they don’t make TV money can we take them seriously?

The industry still can’t bring itself to fully confront the answer to that question. It dithers, aggregating audience as impersonal data points to avoid meeting them at their chosen web addresses, modest as they might be.

But, fine. The villagers always win out in the end, just like on television.

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