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.