American media is in an undeniable position of strength in terms of accessibly, but it has the potential for extinction in its current form. Overly dramatic maybe, but there are a lot of red flags that need to be addressed and those who address and execute will be the ones who write the playbook for 21st century success:
1. MERGERS, WALL STREET, THE ECONOMY AND ACQUISITIONS:
If you observe the media business, the conversation is focused almost exclusively on the economic side. That’s great…this is America. But–when was the last time you heard or read about a dramatic evolution in the actual content, or a company that’s tearing up a market with a new sound and look that engages Americans. Content brilliance needs to be part of the conversation. If the excitement in media is all about the deals, where does that leave the consumer who could care less about who owns who. Death by deal is a real possibility as media’s eye is SO far off the content ball that old thinkers simply can’t compete in the Google/Apple era. The business side is what makes it rock, but content is what makes it roll, and you need both. Deals will be done, but it’s the magic that comes out of the speakers and screens that’ll move things forward, and that needs to be the conversation every bit as much as the economics.
2. THE PLAYBOOK HASN’T BEEN UPDATED IN 40+ YEARS:
News and Information presentation remains based on dated thinking. As we enter a historic crossroad in media history, traditional thinking in creative/content is deadly. Using Video news as an example, some of the opportunities include a presentation that is:
-DESIGNED FOR 21ST CENTURY TV’s AND MODERN TABLETS AND DEVICES
-CINEMATIC…LIVE A MOVIE (SOUND/MUSIC/STORYLINE/VISUALS/NARRATION), NOT A “NEWSCAST”
-DOCUMENTARY STYLE VS. “REPORTER IN FRONT OF A 7/11 WHERE A ROBBERY HAPPENED 12 HOURS EARLIER”
-NARRATED NOT ANCHORED
-WHEN IT ROCKS IT ROCKS…WHEN IT ROLLS IT ROLLS…(EVER CHANGING INTENSITY LEVELS)
-REAL…GENUINE…AUTHENTIC BY NOT TRYING TO BE.
-MIDDLE AMERICAN…AIMED AT THE REAL CITIZEN, NOT THE FRINGES
-ARTISTIC…WORKS OF ART, NOT “STANDARD NEWS STORIES”–PRESENTATION CREATED BY CREATIVES
-NOT PC! NOT ANGRY OR EVIL…BUT A NON SLANTED POV
-NON CORPORATE OR SLICK
-INTELLIGENT BUT EASY TO GRASP (MASS APPEAL INTELLECT)
-NO PLASTIC COMPONENTS. NO FAKE SKYLINE BACKDROPS OR DISNEY/ NORAD STYLE SETS
-ORGANIC FAST BUT NOT FRANTIC HAS A BEAT…MOVES TO THE BEAT OF 2011
-CLEAR & COHESIVE — THE HITS (ON RADIO IT’S SONGS..IN TOUCH NEWS, IT’S STORIES)
-FOCUSED. EASY TO FOLLOW
-A COUNTDOWN OF THE MOST IMPORTANT MASS APPEAL STORIES. ALL POWERFUL FOCUSED STORIES…HIT STORIES.
-WILL NOT MAKE YOU NERVOUS VIA FAKE ENERGY
-WILL CREATE A WTF AT TIMES NEVER STUPID. CLEVER, OK..BUT NOT STUPID
-MULTI CULTURAL–NOT OLD WHITE GUYS & HOT PREPPY NEWS GIRLS. THE STORY IS THE STAR. NOT A GOOD PLACE FOR THE TED KNIGHT EGO CASES TO WORK
-PASSION…CREATED BY PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT QUALITY
-CHARACTER…SOUL, NOT FOCUS GROUPED
-MUSCLE. BIG, AND GLOBAL
-HIGH STANDARDS WITH NO TOLERANCE FOR COMPROMISE
-COMPETITIVE–GEARED TO WIN NOT JUST COMPETE
-UNFILTERED/UNCENSORED (within FCC guidelines of course)
-WRITTEN BY WRITERS NOT OLD SCHOOL JOURNALISTS OR NEWS PEOPLE ROOTED IN THE 50’s STYLE.
-SO CLICHE FREE, IT’S NOTICABLE
-AGGREGATORS. WE FIND THE MOST IMPORTANT STORIES FOR VIEWERS, WE DON’T CREATE THEM–WE FIND THEM
-NON BRAGGING. THE QUALITY AND DIFFERENCE WILL DO THE SELLING
-NOT OVER THOUGHT.
A REVOLUTION IN NEWS SIMPLY BY CREATING CONTENT THAT MEETS THE INNOVATION STANDARDS OF THE TECHNOLOGY
3. EYES EARS AND THE MIND:
We are in a new era of stimulation. Sound, pictures and awareness have never been higher. You must stimulate all three to cut through.
THE EYES: We live in a Pandora World (the film in this case)…3D…video as art, yet most media is addicted to three network era visuals
THE EARS: There is a world of sound that media fails to engage, opting for tired and cliched pre produced ‘packages.’
THE MIND: America craves “Mass Appeal Intelligence”
We are in a creative crisis as much as an economic one. Time to recruit, enable and inspire creative content stars…but content creators. That 19 year old creative star will probably look at media as the last place they’d want to be. This is a problem IF media has any interest in entering the content war. We have to make our media a creative oasis for thinkers to thrive. Read a job posting from any major traditional media company. Sounds like HR hell. Then read the Apple postings. Wonder why they recruit the future stars?
It is a content war out there and Apple/Google seem to have the advantage. Without a balanced people/function configuration, you’re doomed to lose. Need to develop and inspire STARS in;
I’m talking about creative leadership that, though actions and execution, create a creative priority that is equal to revenue priority. Working in sync to win the battle. Creating cultures to FIGHT the media war and prevail.
I recall waking into a TV station and seeing a mission statement in the lobby. It included lines being cutting edge, innovating, leading, etc….I asked the GSM if this was true. He smirked and said–Nope compete BS. Those statements exist throughout media. When you hear “Content is King”…run! It’s not king. Revenue is. Content drives revenue.
Media lives in an 80’s rooted Focus Group environment–fueled by old school slogans. No one believes them. Like in TV News–EVERY station is “Best, First, On Your Side, In It For You, Most Accurate….etc….). America is too BS savvy to buy that anymore.
5. DENIAL & ARROGANCE:
We are at the most dramatic crossroad in Media History and to be self congratulating ourselves with denial and arrogance is frightening. It’s NOT OK…it’s war. You gotta pull out the weapons, kill the denial and start creating content that’ll win on 21st Century terms. The denial and arrogance is deafening. It’s worse in Radio/TV than newspapers where they often still think and behave as if it’s 1935 and despite their great value and importance tend to reject conversations of evolution.
6. THE DIGITAL EXCUSE:
Digital is now…and the future. Pretty obvious. But–it’s often an excuse. A short cut that undermines the REAL issue–Dated and tired 80’s rooted content. If a TV station is tired and dull, a new App won’t magically make it great, but that’s the thinking out there.
You constantly hear how a product is “moving forward” and entering the digital space. Well, that’s simply survival. What is being avoided like the plague is the core product…the brand itself. Fix the product first. I recall being at a newspaper and they were raving about their innovations and it was stunning. But when I asked about the printed paper, I got blank stares and a “we can’t touch that…it’s sacred” response. Same thing in radio and TV. WHAT COMES OUT OF THE SPEAKERS OR SCREEN is the problem that won’t be fixed by migrating it to online/mobile. Take TV News. It’s laughably dated with the Ultra Doppler super action weather, NORAD sets and big haired modern Ted Knight anchors. Will migrating that to Ipad save the day? Of course not. Fix the product first. Get the product in sync with 2011 before you start praying the delivery system will save you.
Then there’s “interacting” with your radio. That’s great, but not at the expense of the listening experience. Listen first…then interact. No one wants to interact with something tired and dated in its approach.
7. THE SECRET CONSPIRACY:
Seems there’s some secret law that says a Technology company can innovate daily. Version 2, Version 3, Upgrades, White iPhones, etc… Traditional media? Same playbook with new slogans. Media is on innovation autopilot at a time when, to prosper in the Google/Apple era you need to innovate DAILY. American media is getting beaten by the Phone and Cable companies in terms of innovation. That’s symbolic of the coma American media content is in.
Media has often has become a stagnant commodity hoping a new App will fix everything at a time when Tech companies have embraced the 21st Century. This ain’t 1975 where you plug in a format and go. It’s a new world requiring constant updating.
8. BUT WE’RE LOCAL!
Radio and TV are especially guilty of non delivery. In radio, the WGN and WLW types breathe local, but most stations are generic. When I was a kid, we’d drive from Chicago to Miami on Holiday. Indy, Louisville, Nashville, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Miami. Every city had stations with character. Maybe it was the Southern accents on WQXI in Atlanta or the undeniable pride that permeated every break. Make that same trip today and it’s a generic wasteland. Everyone sounds the same. Again, you’ll hear the denial. we have a local morning show…we do a blood drive every summer. Big deal. Stations should do a “local audit”…audit their sound and marketing and you’d find hundreds of missed opportunities. In Chicago, there are several billboards and outdoor vehicles, I’ve yet to see ONE that says “Chicago’s W—-“….
Incidentally, “local” can be an excuse too. We are becoming more Global by the minute. But if you commit to local…then DELIVER in EVERYTHING that you touch.
9. YOU CAN’T ABBREVIATE MAGIC:
You can’t design the future until you understand the past. Look back to ground breaking media properties. They created a plan—completeness. Schwartzkopf style planning…a mission. Right down to how the receptionist answered the phone. Some say this/I’m old fashioned and you can’t do that today. Why? Is media so full of itself that a great game plan that REALLY reinvents is old fashioned? I’m one that believes ANY old media product can reinvent itself and kick ass in any market. Money? Imagination is free. In fact, the most passionate and gifted people are the ones you want in there, and they’re not about money. Of course media is driving them away. Winning media wars is hard. It takes emotional and managerial command. Media has to stop living in a walled in Ad Club society/world and create teams that fight for brilliance…and deliver.
Pioneer Todd Storz had a timeless line: “First program…then sell.” Media is entertainment…not utility. In some cases both, but always entertainment. The environment is too cluttered for an abbreviated game plan to win.
10. MEDIA & INFORMATION IS THE NEW ROCK N ROLL:
Rock and roll as a culture drivers arguably on life support. It’s may not be apparent yet, but when it starts looking backwards, the best days are behind it. But that’s OK, you can learn from it and build on the NEW Rock n Roll. By Rock being dead, I mean as a driver of culture. Whereas Elvis drove culture, nowadays it’s Facebook…and News. The world is having a nervous breakdown and that’s what s moving the culture. I doubt if a new Beatles will emerge that make everything right…culture is all about media and information. BUT–The M.O. of Rock n Roll is timeless and we need Rock n Roll THINKING, regardless of format or style. The characteristics of Rock ‘n Roll thinking include:
ECCENTRICITY…ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK
INNOVATION AS A DRIVER IN EVERYTHING YOU DO
SWAGGER…A SENSE OF CONFIDENCE
NEWNESS…THE STRUGGLE TO BE FIRST
RE-INVENTION…A DESIRE AND MOTIVATION TO
CREATES FANS NOT “USERS”
CHANGING…ALWAYS PUSHING FORWARD
COMPETITIVE…FIGHTING FOR SUCCESS
ARTFUL…CREATING COMMERCE THROUGH ART (ART IS NOT A BAD WORD UNLESS IT’S BAD ART)
INSTINCTIVE…NOT RELYING ON YESTERDAYS INFORMATION
REBELLIOUS…AGAIN, A FIGHTING SPIRIT
INTELLIGENT…IN A MASS APPEAL WAY
NON ELITIST…FOR THE MASSES
Get back to the roots of engaging America. What a listener/viewer hears and sees from the speakers, the screens and on the streets. Stop with the excuses–Everything will be fine when the economy improves…we have a new App…We’ve been here since 1942…we’re local because our tower is here. American media is in a position of strength. Just imagine if EVERYone had a Mac. Do you think Apple would stop reinventing itself? Traditional media and especially TV have, as mediums, back burnered the content fight at a time when THE MAGIC OF WHAT COMES OUT OF THE SCREENS AND SPEAKERS is more powerful than ANY technology. Combined with technology, its untouchable. Time to get on war footing and start to create the magic on 2011 terms.
…This stuff ain’t easy, but it’s a style of thinking that creates solutions at a time of great whining.
–Lee Abrams, former Tribune Chief Innovation Officer