A New Mission for Media
April 15, 2015
Facilitate the flow of information to the point of its highest value.
The media industry at large has lost its path. Most media companies are heavily tilted toward media as entertainment, rather than media as information. As a result, they are engaged in a digital race to the bottom, where falling ad CPM drives them to seek higher page view numbers on thinner margins, focusing on quantity rather than quality, on usage rather than utility. This has left a huge, blue ocean of market opportunities in focused information services open to software and technology companies, who are growing at exponential rates while traditional media companies struggle to slow the rate at which their business is shrinking. Media businesses can stop drowning and start growing again if they recognize and adopt the mission statement above, the mission that media organizations have always had.
As a media organization, your mission is to facilitate the flow of information to the point of its highest value.
That doesn’t just mean its highest value to you, the business, but the highest value over all to the community you serve. Journalism can be seen as a fulfillment of this mission, because information about corporate malfeasance or government activity has more value to society when it is in the hands of consumers or voters. But media organizations, and especially newspaper organizations, need to embrace the idea that news is more than just journalism, and media is more than just news.
A perfect example of an information service that should have been, but was not, created by a media company, is Waze. Waze is a mobile application that feeds its users real-time traffic information and turn-by-turn directions. Now, media companies have been providing their users with traffic information for decades, even going to the expense of paying for aerial observation helicopters to monitor traffic conditions. They knew there was a market need there. They thought they were filling it. Then Waze came along and stole their thunder, because Waze gives users exactly the information they need, at the exact time that they need it, and that makes the information much more valuable to the consumer. The fact that you publish the same information on your web site or broadcast it over the radio is irrelevant. Waze provides that information at the point of its highest value. Waze is doing the job of a media company.
Why didn’t a media company invent Waze? In fact, why didn’t every local media company across America re-invent it? It’s certainly not because they didn’t know about the market need. I think it’s because they lost sight of their mission. They were thinking about attracting audiences to their products, when they should have been thinking about how to serve their audiences better. Had they been focused on facilitating the flow of information (rather than merely the flow of advertising dollars), they might have recognized the opportunity.
The proliferation of personal, always-present, always-connected, location-aware mobile devices presents a huge growth opportunity for media businesses. More than ever before, it is now possible to deliver information to your audience at the exact time and place that it will have the most value.
You, as a media business, should be brainstorming every day to find new situations where a specific person needs some specific information at some specific time, and crafting new products for those situations. Some of these products will be so valuable that your audience will pay for them. Some will be better suited to an ad-supported model. Still others may be sponsored by a single business or organization. Some may lend themselves to in-app purchase opportunities. By addressing the timely information needs of your audience, you open the possibility of multiple revenue streams. If you perform this brainstorming exercise, you will come up with many, possibly hundreds of ideas.
It is your responsibility, media executives, to structure your business as a pipeline for testing and scaling these ideas. Train your audience development team in the latest (fastest and cheapest) user research methods. Train your product development team on the latest mobile and web technologies. Leverage the on-demand compute power of the cloud to reduce up-front capital outlays, quickly shut down experiments that don’t pan out, and rapidly scale the ones that take off. Use application templates to shrink your time to first prototype. All of these are ways to reduce the cost and risk of testing new products.
Get your assembly line running and don’t let it stop. Ship a new app every quarter, then every month, then every two weeks. If they don’t make a splash, no worries. It’s a small investment, easy to write off. If they do hit, scale them up and leverage the new revenue streams.
The key is to focus on the essential mission of the media, to facilitate the flow of information to the point of its highest value, and never stop asking how you can better serve your audience. Do this, and you will turn your foundering media business into a rapidly growing information services company.