As the media industry continues to try to understand where it really stands, some very smart analysts are taking their shot at interpreting the present, and what it means for the future. It is easy to blame our current media woes on the recession, but harder to develop an accurate vision for life after a recovery. Will media rebound when the economy gets back on its feet? Or is the recession just a smokescreen for a larger systemic problem that is facing all media?
In radio, we have a habit of internalizing our problems. But as time goes by, and we watch what's happening with newspapers, magazines, television, and even Internet, it becomes clearer that radio is just another victim in the current reformulation of advertising, accountability, and ass-kicking.
To that end, Bob Garfield - co-host of NPR's "On The Media" and columnist for Ad Age - just wrote a devastating piece that will make you consider a career in data processing. "The Future May Be Brighter But it's Apocalypse Now" lays out the case that the media model that has gotten us to this point is flat-out over. And with it, will go many of the media institutions that have been around for decades - or more.
Garfield paints a bleak picture - that broadcast, print, cable, and Internet are all struggling - and failing - to monetize their assets - and that there's simply too much media to subsidize with traditional advertising. I'll let you read this piece and reach your own conclusions. Hopefully, with a stiff drink in hand.
But of course, there's the other side. And in the spirit that we talk about often in this blog, let's resist the temptation to simply go the gloom and doom route. How do we get out of this mess? Is there a way to pay for all this content, and get the economy moving again?
To find out, we turn to another smart guy, a former radio programmer and executive. Some incredibly smart folks have left radio over the last few decades to make their marks in other/related businesses. Tom Calderone, Brian Phillips, Lee Abrams, and many others have utilized their experiences in radio to bring a sense of innovation and creativity to other industries.
No one has done this better than Bob Pittmann. From his days in radio in the '70s (with NBC) to creating MTV to Six Flags to AOL, Pittman's intuitive sense for what works, and how to motivate consumers is legendary. One of my favorite examples goes back to his radio days in Chicago, working with then-Country formatted WMAQ. If you are of a certain age, you remember the buzz that was generated by Pittman's "WMAQ is gonna make me rich" contest, that prodded Chicagoans to answer the phone with that phrase in order to win cash. When I hear programmers talk about building cume and awareness, I think about that contest, and its incredible ability to transcend WMAQ's audience boundaries and electrifying an entire city.
As Pittman points out, "There's a reason that America is the largest consumer market in the world: It also happens to be the largest advertising market in the world. Advertising works -- and it has been proven again and again for over a century. Every successful business spends money on advertising, everything from public relations to TV to Internet-search advertising."
Pittman reasons that while some Americans are simply cash-strapped and unable to part with their money, a much larger group is on the sidelines, waiting for something - an "all clear" signal or perhaps some powerful incentives that can be delivered through basic advertising channels.
As a candidate who broke all previous advertising spending records, President Obama knows only too well about the power and impact of great ad and marketing campaigns. While we're stimulating banks and insurance companies, while creating jobs for infrastructure improvements, we'd do well to set aside a few of those billions for stimulating the advertising business. Pittman talks of additional tax credits for advertising - a good idea to give the guy on the street a reason to start spending again.
So whose vision/solution/analysis do you like better? Garfield's? Pittman's? Or perhaps your own? That's why there's a "comments" space at the bottom of this blog. If you're so inclined, let's hear your POV.