Online Will Bend but Not End Offline Media

This week both the WSJ and NY Times ran articles on the dynamics of "traditional media" competing with "new media" (the Internet) and the likely impact of the latter on the former (Neal Polachek blogged about it below). I'm usually the guy in the Chicken Little suit warning people that the sky is falling — and in some respects it may well be for viewership/readership of traditional media.

But I have to say that there's little chance that the Internet is going to mortally wound TV, newspapers or radio (at least not in our collective lifetimes). It's almost a cliche to say "TV didn't destroy the movies," and so on.

That's not to say that traditional media can be complacent in any way. What's very clear is that the Internet is a disruptive force and that audiences are fragmenting and often choosing online at the expense of offline. But the paradox is that even if every major advertiser in America wanted to pull all their money out of TV and other traditional media tomorrow and shift it to online, they couldn't. There wouldn't be enough inventory — let alone quality inventory — to buy. (This is one of Lincoln Millstein's points).

MSN's Bob Visse and I were discussing this two nights ago at this iMedia conference. He buys media for MSN Search and he was saying that the best reach (and the cheapest) is still broadcast TV. It was something of a surprise to hear a search/online guy say that. Following that line of argument: Until online and search can develop more inventory (and raise the quality level) there is a theoretical limit on how much money can flow from offline into online media.

From an advertiser perspective, and in theory, online and offline media can and should learn to work together for their mutual benefit. On the consumer side, however, it's not as clear.

For example, what happens if 18-34 year olds abandon newspapers, Yellow Pages and TV for the Internet and there simply isn't a way for the corresponding ad dollars to follow those audiences? Are those advertisers somehow compelled to continue to buy traditional media (or shift into DM and outdoor) because that's where most of the inventory remains? Or do they decrease their spending or find totally new ways to advertise (e.g., product placement in video games, etc.)?

Here are the results of the WSJ's readers poll on which traditional medium would be "obsolete" in 25 years:

  • Broadcast TV: 1031 votes (24%)
  • Broadcast radio: 695 votes (16%)
  • Printed newspapers: 2476 votes (57%)
  • Printed books: 157 votes (4%)

What can probably be said with certainty is that in 25 years many of these industries will look quite different than they do today, much like the cars of the '30s and '40s don't resemble the cars of today. Cars are still very much with us, though they're more technologically sophisticated and look very different. Crude though that analogy may be it suggests the point: newspapers, TV and radio will continue to exist.

They'll have to get smarter, more sophisticated and maybe leaner to effectively compete, but they'll still be around.

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