By Lucia Moses
Traditional media are still valued for their quality content and ability to amass big audiences, but they're increasingly undermined by their limited ability to target their audience, negative perceptions among advertisers and uncertainty about technology's impact on their future.
Those points got wide agreement at Advertising Week's three-part panel "Are Legacy Media Going the Way of the 8-Track?" The panel brought together advertising and media execs from magazines (above), newspapers and radio.
For magazines, technology has been a foe as well as friend, panelists said.
Advancements in printing have helped magazines get to newsstands faster, while e-reader devices stand to transform how publications reach audiences, said Mark Ford, president and group publisher at Time Inc., predicting that an e-reader that would be a "game-changer for the magazine industry" was only 18 months away.
Yet in addition to expanding their workload, the Web also has forced magazine employees to adapt their culture and content to a new platform, others said.
"It's a cultural change, and I'm not sure publishers have their hands around what that means," said David Steinhardt, president and CEO of Idealliance, a nonprofit alliance designed to promote best practices in media.
As people get more of their information online, magazines also need to evaluate their long-standing annual subscription and circulation-based ad sales models, panelists said.
Donna Campanella, executive director of global media for Avon Products, criticized magazines for being slow to provide granular audience measurement data on a par with electronic media.
"What can you do to tell me if someone gets the magazine, if they're reading it . . . what percentage of my specific target audience read my ad?" Campanella said. "When you're able to do that, you have my money."
She also called on magazines to come up with an audience measurement that takes into account readers' multimedia usage.
"Magazines are hurting now," she said. "This is the time to change your model."
Campanella singled out Reader's Digest and TV Guide, both of which have dramatically slashed circulation in their struggle to stay relevant, as having "gone the way of the dinosaur."
But Myrna Blyth, the former editor of Ladies' Home Journal and More magazines who now edits the women's lifestyle site Betty Confidential, pointed to Real Simple and Men's Health as evidence that magazines can still succeed by taking a basic service and providing it in a new way.
Newspapers also are poised to benefit from technologies like e-readers, participants in the following panel said. But the devices leave plenty of questions unanswered, such as how ads will be delivered and how the devices themselves will be distributed.
Panelists acknowledged that the newspaper business, which is suffering its worst ad decline in decades, has fundamentally changed.
"We don't think it'll ever come back the way it was," admitted Don Meek, president of national media sales for interactive and publishing at Tribune Co., parent of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.
As ad revenue drains from print and the need to grow paid content also loom for newspapers.
Papers have traditionally relied on advertising for some 80 percent of their revenue. But Susie Ellwood, CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership, which operates the business side of Gannett's Detroit Free Press and MediaNews Group's The Detroit News, said she saw that ratio for Detroit getting to 60/40 next year and inching closer to 50/50 as the papers rely increasingly on consumer revenue.
"Content's very valuable, and we need to figure out what to put behind pay walls," she said.
Despite the growing adoption of digital platforms, panelists still saw a strong role for printed newspapers, given half the adult population reads newspapers.
"We're the only ones that report our death prematurely," Meek said of negative press coverage of the industry. "I don't know if it's Stockholm syndrome, but we do this to ourselves. I think we're much healthier than people think we are."
Radio industry execs, speaking on the third panel, also bristled at negative perceptions of their medium, which faces declining ad revenue and rivalry from Internet radio, iPods and other devices that compete for consumers' time.
Radio also has suffered from difficulty in attracting creative talent and from the negative connotation of being a passive medium, noted Charlie Rutman, president of End Zone Communications and former president of MPG North America.
Yet contrary to terrestrial radio's perception as old-fashioned, Clear Channel is adapting to new technology, making its stations available on mobile platforms, president and CEO John Hogan said. "There's growth for everybody," he said. "It's about the ability to connect with consumers."
Yet Hogan and other panelists also acknowledged that it's critical for radio, like all traditional media, to improve audience measurement and demonstrate accountability.
"Advertisers want to see results, and they don't care about the platform," he said. "There's an old saying: Nobody ever got fired for buying network television. Now, they might."