By Robert C. Raciti, Ph.D., SVP/GE Commercial Finance – Media, Communications & Entertainment
As opposed to the traditional monologues that have captivated traditional media over the last few decades, the next wave of media will dialogue with individual audience members. New digital technologies are expanding the options of both traditional and new media outlets and enabling two-way interactive experiences with individuals. I am not saying that traditional media is going away! What I am saying is that there are many distribution channels for media and content creators need to understand the benefits and limitations of each in order to leverage their content across as many channels as economical. Since people consume from a variety of technologies, it makes sense that content is distributed through the channel that the users want in the form that the users want.
Over the next few years, the media business will involve more than just producing professional content. The industry’s new skills will also include orchestrating content from the audience, professional writers, and sometime the sponsors into a product that enhances the entire media experience. This form of participatory media put the audience front and center, and make them part of the production. When people feel part of a group, they are more likely to come back often and do business with their "friends."
From a pure technology perspective, we know about most innovations creeping their way through the technology value chain. Media companies of all types can be considered "service providers." The enabling technologies for these service providers consist of "boxes" such as routers, switches, computers, wireless transmitters, and storage gear. Looking inside of these boxes we see components such as computer chips, optical components, and power amplifiers. Looking inside of these components are advanced materials such as silicon carbide and gallium nitride. Many of the mature service companies know of and are planning for how these new technologies can help them achieve their business goals. They are planning to use new technologies as they become available including things like holographic storage that can store thousands of DVDs on a single inexpensive piece of plastic or new wireless transmission chips that can transmit 100s of megabits every second. It is not the technology that is new in the media industry. It is how innovative companies are using the technologies that already exist in ways that allow them to connect with their audiences.
The companies that "get it" using existing tools such as blogs, social networking, and Internet forums to have conversations with their audiences and build communities around their brands. This involves an honest dialogue among customers, prospects, brand detractors, and the companies. The key word here is dialogue. There must be an exchange of ideas rather than the traditional one-way messages that have permeated media for decades. The most threatening aspect of this concept is that the companies lose control of their content.
Traditional media companies have been losing control for a few years now. First it was losing control of programming TV and radio. Rather than be told when to watch or listen to shows, digital video recorders and music recorders have put the content consumption times in the hands of the viewers. With the introduction of user-generated content, "professional" content companies have been losing control of their content by allowing the audience to shape it. The concept of conversational marketing takes this one step further and decreases control of a company’s brand. The benefits of this approach often eclipse these limitations. Wikipedia defines conversational marketing as "the engagement of social media by a corporation to promote their product or brand. It differs from traditional forms of customer touch because the company may enter into an online dialogue which is stored publicly in a forum or blog." Although it may appear to be problematic to traditional marketers, conversations about the company’s brands are going to happen with or without the company’s participation. Therefore, companies might as well be engaged in the dialogue and use insights to improve their products and messages about their products.
It is important to understand that the media landscape is changing over time and the rate of change is accelerating. Although many of these channels are nascent today, they are likely to become mainstream before we know it. Just keep an eye on how today’s children are consuming media. They are taking advantage of how the media is becoming a two-way channel by participating, contributing, and socializing with others. In order for companies to connect with their customers, audience, or prospects, they should be using their existing toolset to dialogue with them. If your primary form of content distribution is one-way, use other channels to harness interactivity and have your audience be heard. Companies that come out on top will be those companies that iterate their way to the future by trying new ways to connect with customers and by building communities around their brands.