Do professional media standards matter?

I suggested earlier that structural change is irrevocably changing the media model

Reader Bill Bennett is sceptical. He comments:

The acid test: Can an average 14-year-old create a TV network that anyone would consider worth watching? The answer is “probably not”.

Substitute ‘average 14-year-old’ with “team of experienced professional TV network executives” and ask the same question.

He’s absolutely right, of course – most of the time the end product becomes something vastly different from what we old-style media consumers consider to be professionally produced journalism and/or entertainment.

But does this undermine the core argument? I think not. 

Crucially the argument is an economic one. When even 14-year-olds have access to, in effect, global broadcasting technology, the effect is destabilising for old-style “professional” media. 

Sure, the quality will be amateurish. But remember that there is a vast amount of it available online. And we’re also changing the relationship between producers and consumers.

Media consumers are more likely to be media producers as well. They tend to have a more active relationship with content than older viewers and readers are used to. 

In effect, it’s a double whammy. Web users spend time looking at user-generated, web-based content, but they also spend time creating it. 

That’s time that they don’t spend passively consuming professionally produced content on TV. 

And don’t underestimate the ability of ludicrously amateurish content to eat into viewing time. You only have to look at things like the Boxxy phenomenon or other fleeting me-me-me stars such as Australia’s Natalie Tran to see the numbers involved – there are millions of viewers here. 

So why does this matter?

TV networks, and print media, rely on a certain density and quality of eyeballs to maintain their pull for high-paying advertising. Lose enough of those eyeballs and you start losing revenue. 

Crucially, if you drop below a certain threshold, you lose enough revenue to make your broadcast or publishing model fail – no matter that you still have many eager viewers or readers left

And it’s easier than you think to make this happen. If 25% of your potential audience spends just 25% of their time on YouTube instead of watching mainstream broadcast media, your audience drops significantly. 

Much of the decline in terrestrial TV viewing share has been down to channel fragmentation from digital broadcasting. But it’s notable that, according to reports from the BBC and the IPA, the 16-24 age group in particular is now being distracted by the internet and is watching TV less overall. 

Yes – maybe younger viewers will get bored with mobile phone video mashups and come back to ITV eventually (if it’s still broadcasting). But I suspect this won’t bring back the golden age of expensive, high-quality professional journalism that we in the media hanker after. 

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3 Comments

Filed under Journalism

3 responses to “Do professional media standards matter?

  1. My biggest fear is unreliable information sources are crowding out reliable sources. (OK, relatively reliable sources).

    Forget the internet for one moment. In the US, newspapers are closing and the Fox network, which makes a virtue out of being biased, now takes a big slice of the TV audience. I suspect something similar is happening in radio. Here in New Zealand, advertorial (that’s paid editorial) publications are displacing editorial-based publications.

    This makes it harder and harder for ordinary members of the public to keep in touch with the independent, objective news and information they need to make informed decisions. We could be dancing our way to a new era of ignorance.

    Take for example, the swine flu epidemic. Would you trust the information from a 14-year old’s news bulletin to keep you and your family safe?

    • freelanceunbound

      You raise an interesting point. I sort of touched on this a while ago when I noted that information on the web is much more fluid than hard-copy print. I did wonder whether we would start to get some kind of reliability rating going to assess to what degree sources on the web are trustworthy.

      But actually I don’t think this is light years away from the old world of journalism. It’s not as if journalists have ever been renowned for their accuracy and trustworthiness as a breed. I mean, you’d trust the New York Times over the National Enquirer, and that’s a judgement call based on experience and reputation. I suspect that consumers of media content will start to do much the same thing with online sources – work out which ones have done the research and back it up, and which ones don’t.

      As for the audience that doesn’t care, or just wants to have its prejudices reinforced, well – that audience will always be with us.

      Thanks to you (and to Richard Young in the previous post on this) for the contributions. I’ll no doubt be revisiting this over time…

  2. ” fleeting me-me-me stars”?

    Natilie Tran has spent 3 years building up a dedicated audince; and doesn’t act very me-me-me. Certainly not nearly as much as your average hollywood diva or super star news anchor on t.v.

    Your characterization as such shows your bias, and discredits your writing.

    Art or just basic entertaiment is not about what glitz and glamour you can producer in an editing studio; it’s actually about the quality of the content; and having watched a couple dozen of her videos, I can tell you that Natalie’s stuff is better thoughtout and more interesting than at least 85% of the garbage on t.v.

    Your basically surmizing that because such person did not go to a corporation and beg them to fund their work, then it’s not art or not legitimate.

    Let me guess, your some print writer, or t.v. producer who’s spent your entire life begging your way up the chain; and now you’re mad that industrious people with a little technology are acheiving more than you in no time.

    Aww, poor you.

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