Personalize Media 2011 Keynote Speech

[34-minute PowerPoint video of keynote speech opening the fifth annual Personalize MEdia Conference (formerly Individuated Media conferences), Boulder, Colorado. June 20, 2011. How traditional media companies have gone astray by misperceiving consumers' switch from analog to digital formats to be the greatest trend underway; why the abundance of content instead makes personalization (i.e., individuation) the greatest trend of 21st Century media; and what the media industries need do about it.  All images public domain. If otherwise, please contact vin@digitaldeliverance.com.]

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Welcome. My name is Crosbie.  Vin, as in Vincent, Crosbie. Welcome to Boulder! And Welcome to Personalize Media 2011! Welcome to the Chautauqua Center.

I’m glad the conference organizers decided to hold this meeting here at Chautuaqua. It’s is a wonderfully symbolic location for this conference. Behind the projection screen, on the wall of this hall, is a photo showing the first Chautauqua meetings ever held here. The year was in 1898. Everyone here was living in tents. Canvas tents. Back then, it wasn’t the high-tech Boulder you see outside the windows today, but a pioneering group, meeting to discuss what would become.

We’re figuratively those pioneers today. Thanks for asking me to keynote the conference. I’m going to start this conference with a very bold statement. A bold statement I’ll then justify. Personalization (individuation) is the major media trend of the 21st Century.

Some executives think these are dark times for media. Well, in case there are any historians in the audience: that’s like saying the Enlightenment was a dark time for the Feudal system.

If your business today dates from the Industrial Era – in other words, if your business is Mass Media—media based upon the practices that arose from the technological limitations of the analog press or analog transmitter—media in which all readers receives the same edition at once or all listeners or viewers see the same broadcast at once – then these are dark times indeed. The era of Mass Media’s feudal primacy is over. Something new and enlightened has replaced it.

Most media executives, schooled in Mass Media, don’t really understand what has happened

I’ll start explaining what’s happened by telling you about my own industry: the daily newspaper industry. The daily newspaper industry is among the oldest and most hallowed of media industries.

I’m here to tell you how lack of personalization, the lack of individuation, is destroying that industry in every one of the world’s post-industrial countries. In every country where people’s access and choice of media is no longer relatively scarce, but abundant.

Here in the U.S., the daily newspaper industry earned revenues of nearly $49 billion in Year 2000…. Ten years later, last year, that same industry earned only $25.2 billion. The U.S. daily newspaper industry has lost almost 50 percent of its revenues during the past ten years.

Some newspaper executives like to blame the 2007 recession for the loss. However, the facts are that less than half of that loss occurred during the recession. Most of that loss happened during the non-recession years, the years before and after the recession. An industry over 200 years old in this country has lost approximately half of its revenues during the past ten years.  Why?

I’ll tell you why: The reason is that newspapers and other media industries got caught in a conceptual trap—a conceptual trap into which most media executives fell as they tried to understand the greatest change in media history.

Most major languages have an adage about the conceptual trap into which most media executives have fallen: L’arbre qui cache la forêt. Los árboles no dejan ver el bosque. Er sieht den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht. ИЗ-ЗА ДЕРЕВЬЕВ ЛЕСА НЕ ВИДНО. Μπορεί να δει το δέντρο και όχι το δάσος. 见树不见林. 木を見て森を見ず. Because I speak English, the version I use is, they don’t see the forest for the trees.

Most media executives today mistakenly believe that the greatest change underway is that people are simply switching media consumption from analog to digital formats. These executive misperceive a trait or characteristic as the change itself.

They see the trees, but not the larger perspective. And their myopia has led of them to formulate the wrong strategies for adapting to the gargantuan changes underway in media.

Because most media executives misperceive the change underway to be that consumers are simply switching from analog to digital, these executives believe that what their companies must do to adapt is simply do in digital what they’ve always done in analog.

The executives believe that all their companies need to to is use the same business models, the same production practices, the same packaging, the same products, and the same content in digital as they’ve always used in analog — albeit with the addition of some hyperlinks, audio, video, and animation, and publicized via Social Media.

That’s the root of their not seeing the forest for the trees problem. (It’s about as apt a strategy as putting the Olsen Twins in the deep woods.)

Unfortunately, any strategy based upon a misperception will not only fail to yield successful results but will fail to explain why successful results aren’t yielded.

So, it’s not surprising that these media executives are mystified why the digital versions of their traditional newspaper and magazine editions and traditional broadcast programs aren’t earning anywhere near as much revenue online than those traditional products did in print—even in the cases when the digital products have more monthly users.

Moreover, these executives can’t explain why the average user of the digital version uses it much less frequently and less thoroughly than the average user of the analog version does.

Such are the captains of most media companies today: mis-navigating their companies through stormy times; captains of business who, misperceiving the great change in the media environment to be that consumers are simply switching consumption from analog to digital, hold true to the wrong course. They are myopic navigators leading media industries into financial ruin, layoffs, and catastrophe.

While they’re fishing for answers, wondering why their business as usual doesn’t work in digital – or New Media at all – we’re here. We know the answers. That’s why we are attending the fifth annual international Personalize MEdia Conference because we understand what’s really happening. We can see the forest for the trees.

We understand the greatest change in the history of media. We know that it’s not merely a change from analog to digital. We know that the greatest change is really that within only a generation people’s access and choice of news, entertainment, and information has changed from relative scarcity to surplus, even to surfeit or overload.

Look at how things were 40, 30, 20, or even ten years ago in post-industrial countries. News, entertainment, and information used to be relatively scarce. For examples, billions of people worldwide who wanted access to daily changing information had perhaps just one or two or three locally-distributed printed newspapers, plus one, two, or three television channels and a dozen or two radio stations within antenna range.

But all that has changed. Today, we’ve certainly a surplus of news, entertainment, and information. In fact, the main problem nowadays is overload. We’ve got a vast buffet or cornucopia. The problem is picking the exact items we want. And that’s the beauty of it. The exact items we want.

Yes, it’s true that people are switching consumption from analog to digital formats. But that’s not for format’s sake. They’re switching because digital technologies provide them with more choices and access to the news, entertainment, and information that specifically fits their individual mix of needs & interests. It isn’t the format they’re after, but its greater access and enormous choice of specific content.

The fact is that each of us is different. Each of us is an individual. Sure, we might share a few common interests: the weather, for instance. But that’s about it for common general-interests. Each of us, each of you, have dozens, hundreds, of specific interests. Each of us is a unique mix of those interests. And each of us gravitates to whatever content satisfies our own unique mix of individual interests.

Let me put it this way to you: Imagine that during most of your life you had no choice of what you ate. It varied daily, but it was exactly the same meal that everyone else in town ate that day.  What would you do if that situation changed and you instead had your choice of specific items from a gargantuan buffet? Would you continue to eat the communal, general-interest meal each day? No! You’d use the gargantuan buffet and satisfy your individual interests.

Indeed, that’s exactly why billions of people now use search engines daily. Nowadays, billions of people are manually personalizing, customizing, or individuating. They are finding the stories, videos, or other items of content that specifically match their own individual interests. They’re hunting and gathering all that themselves.

As Peter Horrocks, director of World Services for the British Broadcasting Corporation, recently said: “The consequence of this change in users’ consumption has only dimly been understood by the majority of journalists. Most of the major news organizations had the assumption that their news product provided the complete set of news requirements for their users. But in an internet world, users see the total information set available on the web as their ‘news universe’. I might like BBC for video news, the Telegraph or Daily Mail for sports results and The New York Times for international news…”.

People no longer consume generic packages. For example, take a look at these data from Nielsen about U.S. newspaper websites. The first assignment I give my graduate students is to tell me what remarkable about it. Students trained in traditional media, in Mass Media, tell me the answer is the huge number of people who use these websites.

However, the smart students point to the other data. For example, did you know that the average user of the The New York Times’ website visits it only 4.05 times per month; sees less than 27 webpages (which probably means less than 20 stories, because that site stretches most stories over more than one webpage); and spend an aggregate total of less than 20 minutes on the site all month. That‘s a visit only about once per week!

Unpersonalized, uncustomized, unindividuated content is used far less frequently and far less thoroughly online. People use New Media radically differently than they used traditional media.

And that radical difference is personalization, customization, individuation.

Another example, at the National Association of Broadcasters conference this April, Edison Research and Arbitron released a survey of American adults who use online radio. Fifty-three percent of those people knew of Pandora radio, which broadcasts personalized music. A quarter of all online radio listeners had used Pandora. One sixth had used it that month. One in ten people had listened to Pandora that week.

There are more than 6,000 radio stations webcasting in the United States, but one sixth of all online radio listeners listen to Pandora. I dare you to show me a traditional broadcaster or traditional print media site that one in ten of all people online use monthly. The most spectacular success in online broadcasting is personalized, customized, individuated. Pandora also is one of the most successful apps on smartphones and tablets.  And personalized, customized, individuated broadcasts such as Pandora and Last.fm are now having a radical effect on the radio industry.

This year, Clear Channel Communications, which owns more than 1,000 radio stations in the United States, more than any other company, announced that it will launched personalized, customized, individuated versions of its stations online.

Movies watched at home provide another example. Netflix is now the world’s largest distributor of videos. Is that because it has no stores? Is it because Netflix lets you rent a video for as much time as you want? No! It’s because of choice and personalization. Netflix gives each of its customer choice and access to tens of thousands of movies, enough to satisfy anybody’s unique mix of individual interests and tastes. Netflix wouldn’t be the world’s leader if it offered only the number of videos titles you could fit into a storefront.

Neither would Amazon be the leading bookseller.

In traditional media, Mass Media — in other words, Industrial Era media – every users sees exactly the same things at the same time as every other users. So, Is Facebook a Mass Medium? With more than 560 million users, it certainly has mass scale. Yet every user of Facebook sees something different than every other user of Facebook. What they see depends upon the user’s own individual mix of friends and interests. It’s not Mass Media, it is Individuated Media.

And that’s the point of my keynote today. We are right. People want Individuated media. Not Mass Media. Mass Media, and the practices and business models associated with it, were based upon scarcity, not surplus or abundance. Nothing wrong with that during its era. But that era ended at the end of the past century. What we’re clearly seeing nowadays, in the 21st Century, is the rise of Individuated Media (what we’re at this conference calling Personalized Media)

We know that the ramifications of billions of people having virtually instant access to all the world’s information are gargantuan, far greater than Gutenberg’s invention of moveable printing type or Marconi ’s and Tesla’s invention of broadcasting, and will affect not only the media industries, but every other realm of commerce, culture, politics, society, and civilization. But the fact that billions of people want a personalized, customized, individualized selection of content has gargantuan ramifications for the media industries.

First, hunting & gathering are primitive ways to acquire things–be those things food and shelter or news, entertainment, and information. There are huge business opportunities for media companies here. Facebook knows that, which is why it allows its users to automate feeds of news, entertainment, and information into users’ Facebook experiences.

The media industries need to adopt production practices and technologies that deliver to each individual the personalized, customized, individuated news, entertainment, and other information (including advertising and other product & service information) that that the person wants.

All sectors of all media industries need to work together, something unprecedented. People don’t consume just newspapers or just magazines or just broadcasts or just pure-play Internet content. They consume the mix, and won’t deal with different business models per media industry. Walls between traditional media must fall.

Nor will people consume just their own nation’s media. The world’s media industries need to globalize. There are no borders online except language.

All this will require huge changes in the practices and business models of media. Likewise, huge changes in the production and delivery technologies. Yet all of the technologies necessary exist today. These technologies and their successors are necessary for media companies to survive during the 21st Century. We are the pioneers of these discoveries.

During the next two days, we’ll examine personalized books, personalized magazines, personalized newspapers, personalized advertising, personalized greeting cards, personalized home printing, and other related subjects.

We’ll look at the technologies, the products, and the business models.

Like the early automobiles, early aircraft, and early computers, some of these might be embryonic or have gaps in their production or business models. But they are the future.

We are the future. The future of media is here with you now.

Thank You!

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