Guest Post: The New ‘Media Consumption’ and the Impact on PR

On February 15, Apple introduced a subscription plan that has been causing controversy ever since.

The ultimate effect on PR has yet to be determined, but the discussion has already begun. In today’s guest post, Ben Billingsley, principal of Horn Group’s New York office, writes about the new face of media consumption and how PR will be impacted.

Feel free to share your thoughts about how tablets and other technology are changing media consumption and the practice of PR. And marvel at this baby using an iPad.

The Next Generation of Media Consumption

When Apple unveiled its rules for publishers and its subscription plans for apps, the media coverage was relentless. Many media companies have been hedging their digital bets waiting to see exactly what Apple’s plan would entail and their initial opinions on the announcement were sharply divided.

Apple taking a 30 percent cut from publishers and requiring subscribers to “opt in” to share contact info and other details were the biggest points of discussion.

It will certainly be interesting to watch where the debate goes from here. Unlike Apple’s behind-closed-doors negotiations with major music companies for digital music sales via the iTunes store, Apple’s subscription plan details were very public. Obviously, they had to be public. Apple couldn’t negotiate one-on-one with every single publisher or app developer.

Will Apple blink? Who knows? If a major app developer with an Angry Birds level of popularity pulled its app, Apple would have to decide if its platform could withstand enough high-level defections. And, the impact of the new subscription plan on Amazon’s popular Kindle app is still very unclear.

Every digital content pundit and expert has noted the lackluster iBookstore sales and popularity vs. Amazon’s Kindle app. Is Apple willing to piss off a large share of its users simply to enforce its new subscription plan as currently stated? And, if federal regulators start asking questions about Apple’s subscription demands relative to its initial success with the iPad, will Apple take a red pencil to their plans?

One thing is absolutely certain regardless of what happens in the next 18-24 months – the meteoric success of Apple’s iPad has introduced the next generation of media consumption.

Before we’re accused of being Apple fanboys, it’s simply a fact that Apple sold twice the number of iPads in 2010 than even the most rosy Wall Street analyst predicted it would sell. And, while Apple has a formidable lead as of today, we all know how market domination can quickly evaporate in a constantly changing tech industry. Android, webOS and Windows Mobile tablets will arrive late. But, when they do arrive, they’ll be available in a plethora of form factors and styles.

This next generation of media consumption, ushered in by Apple’s iPad, will have long-ranging impact on public relations. People crave media in all forms and the rise of tablet computers will make it easier for consumers to purchase and consume media where and when they want to – eMagazines, news, radio, videos, music and interesting combinations of all the above.

In addition, tablet computers will extend media consumption in ways that some have alluded to, but not many people have focused on – spreading technology to demographics currently underserved by digital media. Numerous YouTube videos of very young toddlers excitedly operating iPads have been uploaded. Despite attempts at simple operating systems, the iPad has delivered on that promise – a device that anyone can operate regardless of age or previous computer experience.

And, ironically, forms of journalism that many feared dead – long-form journalism included –  will return. Increasingly, people are comfortable reading full-length books on their tablet computers; and, Amazon recently introduced Amazon Singles – the equivalent of novellas or long magazine articles.

Today, the discussion is about compensation for digital content, but those compensation issues will get worked out. They’ll get worked out because there is consumer demand to be met.

And, who is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the 24/7 news cycle for digital content? PR professionals – either through media coverage of your clients in earned media or through content creation on behalf of your clients.

What are your plans for utilizing the new digital media distribution channels on behalf of your clients?