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Manchester Media Forum

By The Drum | Administrator

July 19, 2007 | 8 min read

2020 foresight?

The UK is now the worst performing daily newspaper market in Europe. That was the stark fact delivered to delegates at the Manchester Media Forum on July 5. Setting the theme that the world of media is changing at break-neck pace, conference chairman Jim Chisholm, joint principal of Lille-based iMedia and former chairman of the World Association of Newspapers, told delegates that both display and classified revenue has dropped by 50 per cent in the last 10 years.

“The UK is not even in the top 10 of newspaper readers,” he revealed. “Sweden’s newspaper readership, for example, is around double that of this country.”

To compensate for falling circulation, Chisholm suggested, the next big trend in the market will be a move towards free dailies, a strategy that is already being pursued by the Manchester Evening News. “There is room for three times as many free dailies in the UK market,” Chisholm said.

The theme of rapid change was built on by Alex Marks, head of marketing at Microsoft. “Within 10 years newspapers will start to close,” he said. “And within 20 years they will disappear.”

However, not everyone agreed that the newspaper market is in its dying days. Andy Jeal, managing director of MediaVest, told the conference: “I think newspapers will always be with us. I still get an enormous amount of pleasure from holding a paper product and I cannot see them ever disappearing completely.”

Not surprisingly, The Telegraph agreed. Group sales director Matthew Watkins said: “Papers will change. They may get thinner, and they will be very much part of an online service, but they will still be published.”

But Marks thinks such views fail to take into account the rapid pace of digital development – where processing power doubles every year. “I do not believe newspapers have a future,” he told delegates. “However, I use the word ‘paper’ on purpose. The newspaper companies will still be with us, but they will be delivering their products through digital devices.

“Why is Metro a newspaper? Why can’t it simply be bluetoothed onto mobile devices with a good screen?” By a good screen, Marks is referring to new products with a large screen which can be ‘rolled’ back into a handheld device when not in use. Such technology will be in a shop near you soon.

Microsoft also predicts big changes in radio as well. Over the next few years, according to Marks, we’ll see more networked shows, fewer DJs and audiences that no longer use dedicated radios, tuning in through PCs and mobile devices instead.

He also suggested that advances in technology are not only physical but physiological. Studies suggest that the brains of young people are actually re-wiring themselves in response to the new media onslaught.

The theory was recently referred to by Maurice Saatchi – of Saatchi and Saatchi fame – who said: “This, apparently, is what makes it possible for modern teenagers, in the 30 seconds of a normal TV commercial, to take a phone call, send a text, receive a photo, play a game, download a music track, read a magazine and watch commercials at six times the speed.”

Jeremy Tester, director of insight at Sky Media, drew attention to another rapidly developing trend –

user-generate content. Sky has launched a TV station called Current where viewers not only have the chance to make the programmes, but the commercials that run between them as well.

Current TV, already up and running in the US, is now launching in the UK. Tester told delegates that the company broadcasts client briefs and then viewers have the chance to answer them. Professional producers in consultation with the clients then separate the wheat from the chaff with a view to broadcasting the best ideas. “Some major clients have already taken part,” Tester said. “And these include brands like Toyota, L’Oreal and Sony.”

Sky’s regional sales director James Rice is planning to tour Manchester agencies with a selection of the commercials soon. He told The Drum: “This concept will be a real wake-up call for creative agencies. For example, the recent Sony Bravia ad would have paid for several hundred of these user-generated ads. Okay, these ads would not have appealed to everyone, but some might have floated the boat of specific audiences. And the fact is it becomes economical to make ads for small groups.”

Whether traditional agencies see this innovation as a threat or a weakness remains to be seen. But there is little doubt that the media scene is changing more rapidly than the marketing services scene. Several speakers expressed the fear that the buying community is not keeping up.

GCAP national sales and trade marketing director Simon Dalglish told the forum: “I do not have a fucking clue what will happen in the next 20 years. But what I do know is that the old media model is broken. Media has now come detached from the interfaces that used to define it.”

People listen to radio on their mobiles, read newspapers on their PCs and watch video on their iPods. So Dalglish argued: “Media owners have to become brands in their own right. They have to operate as brands irrespective of what platforms they use to deliver their content. But, in my view, media auditors are behaving like madmen. They would take you to the finest wine cellar in France and say they can get you a glass of wine for £5.”

This assessment that media buying is out of kilter with media itself found a surprising ally in the form of MediaVest MD Jeal. He told the conference: “The commoditisation of media is costing us dear. We have arguments all the time with auditors who only think of media as a volume parcel.”

And in a side swipe at large buying operations such as Group M – of which Mediaedge is a member – Jeal added: “Auditors and procurement departments just see the space – they do not understand the benefit of a premium position or great ideas.

“As a result, big agencies are losing the ability to deliver what the client needs. They are simply buying parcels of media. The planning is being left to the client. This is a fundamental issue for the business. It is taking creativity out of the equation.”

Another fundamental issue for the industry is whether or not the structure of media-buying houses properly reflects the transformation that is taking place in media. All the companies that fielded speakers during the day – including O2, The Telegraph, Kinetic and GCAP – cited convergence and offering across a range of platforms as a primary driver in this revolution. However, these media-buying houses are still structured with buyers in rigid silos such as press, digital and outdoor, making it difficult for those offering integrated products.

The Telegraph’s Michael Hodkinson commented from the floor: “I have the job of selling packages across the board. But the problem I have is that different buyers from different departments then want to break that package down into all its component parts.”

But as the market debates the future of traditional media, Jeal argued that some of the new players will not have it all their own way either. “I think the growth of search engines such as Google will slow – particularly when people realise that in many ways these search engines simply act like telephones.”

Specifically he believes that TV advertising still has a job to do in encouraging people to search for particular brands in the first place.

“We have a lot of research that shows that DRTV campaigns are just as effective now as they ever were, despite the fact that fewer people are picking up the phone immediately after the ads are shown. The fact is they no longer have to. What they tend to do is wait until their programme has finished, and then they’ll Google the brand to get in touch.

“We know this is happening as DRTV commercials are shown in bursts of activity – and these Google searches coincide with the ads being shown.”

They said that portrait painting was a dead art when the camera came along. They were wrong. They said trains were history when the car became popular. Wrong again. “Television will wipe out the wireless,” they said. Wrong.

The consensus at the Media Forum seemed to be that history might repeat itself here too. The impending death of traditional media has been much exaggerated. The suspicion is that the media landscape of 2020 will include a wide variety of new mediums co-existing with many of the services that exist today.

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