Tablets won’t cure ills of newspaper industry

Posted: December 5, 2010 in BBC, Future, Journalism, News
Tags: , , , ,

Another day…another attempt by a newspaper to reinvent itself.

This time it’s Swedish media group Bonnier, trying to imagine what a newspaper would be like if it had been invented in the age of tablets.

It’s all too easy to scoff and say it wouldn’t be a newspaper.

But for an industry transitioning from a rock to a hard place, holding on to familiarity is important.

You don’t want to scare off the existing readership while trying to woo a new audience. And you don’t want to cannibalize revenue by gaining in one platform at the expense of the other.

But I can’t help thinking that it’s the attachment to the past that is holding back the truly innovative approaches to future news delivery.

Perhaps that’s why all the major innovations we’ve seen in the past few years have been developed outside traditional journalism organisations.

Digital is laying waste to traditional forms of consumption, to business models and to ways of thinking.

Starting with a clean slate is what’s called for, not imitations of products made for a different age.

Industrialist Henry Ford understood this at an instinctive level and encapsulated it in a quote about the Model T: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

This isn’t meant to undermine attempts to understand a market, or to place future development in the sway of intuition or gut instinct.

But it does illustrate that there’s a gap between what the market provides, and is measurable, and what is wanted, though not voiced, at an aspirational level.

Why does any of this matter? How is it relevant to an organisation like the BBC that is still primarily a broadcast organisation?

It matters because the world of broadcasting will soon be feeling the same chill winds.

It won’t be long before broadcasters are, like newspaper and magazine publishers, desperately seeking solutions to the disruption that iPTV sets in train.

Up until now broadcast channels have been like libraries full of best sellers.

We’re now entering a world where there’s going to be an explosion of choice, of narrowcasting, of social interaction, and where search terms themselves become channels.

We’ve had that on the web for some time now of course, the difference here is that the content will be coming to you through the primary screen in the home – the one that still occupies more eyeballs, for more time, than any other – the television

I’ve written before about YouTube Leanback, Google TV and Apple TV and the challenges they pose to traditional broadcasters.

But they bring rich opportunities too and bear the potential to reinvent the viewing experience.

Earlier this week Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told a web gathering in San Francisco that he tried every day to reinforce two core values in the company:

“Move fast and be bold”.

He predicted that in the next five years most companies would be rethought and designed around people.

“Some aren’t going to make it. But over the next five years, everyone’s going to have to think about this.”

Bonnier’s attempt to rethink its business and to reinvent the newspaper look tame, rather than bold, to my eye.

I hope the BBC will be bold as it grapples with the disruption and opportunity that iPTV will offer.

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