Asking the right questions
So why is a newspaper company and not a broadcaster launching Singapore’s first interactive online TV station? The answer to that question, posed earlier this week at a gathering of media executives exploring the future of media, highlights one of the most important issues the industry is facing that, oddly enough, tends to get overlooked.
“Technology is not really an issue”, said TVB.com COO Ivy Wong, drafted in as an honorary representative of the TV industry. (Felix Soh, the Singapore Press Holdings director launching the new station – RazorTV – tactfully declined to answer). It’s easier for a publisher to jump into online TV, Wong explained, because there’s little danger of cannibalizing existing revenues. For a TV company, the shift is a little trickier – something that TVB for instance, as a dominant TV player, is still trying to figure out.
As Wong knows, there’s a lot more to the future of media than getting to grips with websites and mobile phones – a perspective that got a rare but welcome airing in the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club earlier this week, at a special luncheon jointly convened by the Society of Publishers in Asia and the Asia Digital Media Association. In fact, the almost universally accepted transition to digital platforms, with market conditions now determining how fast media owners take the plunge, arguably requires no crystal-ball gazing at all. Attendees pondered the next big question for media instead – namely, if media owners can’t make as much money in the future as they did in the past, what kind of business do they have?
For instance, what does tomorrow hold in store for publications such as Time and Newsweek, with reputations based on quality journalism, when they keep cutting back on editorial resources? asked Torie Henderson, MD of the division handling international business at media agency OMD. “One of the bigger challenges they face over the next five to seven years is how to maintain their relevance to their audience,” she said. “I think they’ve lost that.”
Rather than needlessly remind media owners that digital media cannot be ignored, a more direct issue is how media companies can get a return on the sizable investments necessary to move online, where scale plays such an important role. Discussion at the FCC honed in on some key areas. What can media owners do to prevent declining ad revenues as media choices multiply? How to jumpstart subscription revenues from consumers increasingly accustomed to getting things for free? As well as what kind of offer will continue to attract consumers, and advertisers?
The answers are by no means easy to come by, and could well involve some painful decisions negotiating what media companies want to do and what they can do, in order to survive. On the basis of the lunch at the FCC however, industry professionals are asking themselves the right questions.
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