For the Love of Media

When will the techy guys understand what business they're in?

What do the death of Osama Bin Laden and the television upfronts have in common? They make new media guys anxious.

Osama represents the greatest story of the moment, a story that new media broke and spread (achieving historic numbers), but which it doesn’t own and which it can’t shape or influence. Twitter may deliver it, but yet is strangely passive in the face of it.

The upfronts represent money, advertising money, great, fabulous, continuing, gobs of it, vastly more than any new media companies are making in their efforts to court it.

The historic push-pull for digital platforms and the people who control them has been about how much they are in the media business versus how much they are mere utilities or software delivery systems.

Their impulses go wildly back and forth.

They’ve created content environments supported by advertising, a simple media business model. And yet they ritually deny their aspirations to be content producers and turn up their noses when it comes to selling the advertising that supports them. And yet, they are constantly trying to figure out their news strategy—in fact, dying to control news (there is no new media multibillionaire who has not sat in rapt attention at a banker’s presentation about buying The New York Times). Now they are all looking for a video strategy—with YouTube and Netflix going into original programming. And, of course, there’s Apple taking greater and greater control of the content it sells. And ads. That great sucking sound is Google hiring ad agency people.

I had a pleasant lunch this week with two new media entrepreneurs with unlimited resources wanting to talk about the media business. These entrepreneurs wanted to know, of course, about opportunities, about where and how they might “intermediate” between traditional content producers and digital distributors. I’ve had this lunch on a pretty regular basis for 15 years. But this one seemed different to me.

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