August 28, 2009

Why the new media crisis isn’t new

Posted in Social Media at 8:18 am by R

The world of the Web has thrown some pretty tricky curve balls at established media formats, namely newspaper and television. But this isn’t the first time that media companies have had to re-invent themselves in the face of a technological revolution.

Let’s rewind, shall we, to 1949. Radio was king. But TV was beginning to captivate the masses thanks to a massive cable that connected 15 TV stations throughout the East Coast and Mid-West. A single show Texaco Star Theater, hosted by Milton Berle, catapulted TV into the next stratosphere converting loyal radio listeners to tune in and WATCH.


Terry Teachout wrote a great post about this entire episode (pun intended). He included some telling statistics about the impact of TV’s arrival and what it meant for media consumption:

…a survey of 400 TV owners in Washington, D.C., told the tale: Adult attendance at movies was down 72%, while 36.7% of TV owners attended fewer baseball games. Meanwhile, the average amount of time that these Washingtonians spent listening to ­radio each day had plummeted from three hours and 42 minutes to less than half an hour.

I couldn’t help but recall the Social Media Revolution video when reading this part of Teachout’s post. When new mediums arrive, their impact is imperceptible at first, but takes hold and grows like wildfire.

So it is the same with social media. Our consumption patterns have changed and we have left newspapers and television to grapple with their business models in order to preserve their livelihood.

The good news is, companies like CBS and NBC survived the change from radio to TV, as evidenced by their existence today. NBC is working to transition to online and social interactivity through Hulu (an evil alien plot to take over the world I hear).

Another interesting point Teachout makes is that TV operated in the red the first few years of its existence. Sound familiar? Social media outlets are still struggling to define their worth and their revenue streams. YouTube seems to be developing some interesting tactics. Facebook is working on it, Twitter too. But no advertising format has emerged as the silver bullet for any of these platforms.

Perhaps the most shockingly similar part of this entire idea of changing media paradigms is that the argument remains the same among those who “grew up with” a certain type of communication.

“Maybe we old people can’t adapt successfully to video.”

— Jim Jordan, star of the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly

I’ve heard lots of people limit themselves to what they are familiar with when it comes to social media. It’s daunting to turn away from what you know by heart. But it’s rewarding to discover (and utilize!) the possibilities of something new!

Whatever impact social media is having on your business or life, whatever frustrations this conversion might cause, we can all take comfort in knowing that we’ve been here before and pretty much everyone survived.



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