The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

As promised (and delayed) last Friday, I will run down my Top Ten Media Trends for 2003 from last April and take note of how many of them turned out to this point, the very beginning of 2004. For those keeping score, this list also appeared on MediaPost's MediaDailyNews on May 16, 2003 under the title "Top 10 Intriguing Things to Watch in Media for the Rest of 2003".

Without further ado, I'll take them one-by-one. Most of what I'll contribute will be the development of these trends as I see them, especially in light of the direction they seemed to be heading in almost a year ago. By all means, comment away if you have anything to add.

10. Blogging as a Marketing Vehicle: Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc. is experimenting with using blogs as viral marketing devices for its new Raging Cow product. If it's successful, it could lead to an explosion of such blogs, both among kids and other markets. If it flops, blogs become persona non grata for commercial use (at least so blatantly).

10. I don't think anything's really resolved here, but so far, there hasn't been a huge groundswell of corporate blogs. If anything, a lot of bloggers have sort of reaffirmed their non-commercial intent and shunned any moves toward selling out ("selling out" having a rather broad interpretation; for some, proofreading or editing their writing constitutes selling out). Part of this is that blogging itself really hasn't caught on in the mainstream, either in participants or as a generally recognized activity.

9. AOL Time Warner's online magazine pullback: Pulling People and Entertainment Weekly off the Web should be an interesting experiment, especially because AOLTW has made it accessible enough for people to still get at the content. In particular, the access code printed in each copy of the magazine represents the best of both worlds: Copies get sold, and readers are rewarded for their purchase with limited-time access. If this model succeeds, other publishers big and small will follow suit.

9. I'm really surprised nothing much has come of this, one way or the other. On my radar, there's been neither a backlash nor a marked increase in print subscriptions. Nor have many other publishing companies followed suit (many more newspaper websites are instituting paid or non-paid registration for access, but that was happening way before Time Warner's move). It was a fairly innovative idea to me. It could be that it'll take more time to really assess whether it represents the wave of the future. I know that Time Warner (having since ditched the AOL part of their name) has not shut the access to all their sites completely, but the window is still much more limited than what it was before. Nor have I noticed this giving any sort of boost to the AOL ISP subscriber rolls; indeed, they continue to hemmorage users every quarter.

8. The reality of Reality TV: Most people are expecting a backlash against Realitymania by this summer. But what will the final result be? Some expect the format to become a settled standard on the TV landscape; others think it'll fade away entirely. Important to note that the last Big Thing, the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire phenomenon, is all but spent now, and it didn't really even give the general gameshow category much of a boost.

8. Reality was largely banished after last summer, but thanks to the panic caused by a dismal start of the 2003-04 season, they're back with a vengance for midseason. Issues with advertisers still need to be resolved, but it looks to me like reality fare is here to stay, if for nothing else than to ensure the retention of the coveted youth audience. Trends being what they are, they could still fade over the next few years, but their low production costs and strong hooks makes them look pretty indestructable.

7. Post-theatrical movie marketing: While this has been done in the past, I've seen more and more examples of markedly different selling approaches for certain movies between their theatrical releases and their DVD/video debuts. This is especially the case where a movie might have had a weak box office. Lion's Gate Entertainment seems most adept at this; notice campaigns for the movies The Rules of Attraction and Secretary. Also, Disney seemed to slap its name on the Tuck Everlasting home video product, after declining to do so (at least prominently) for the theatrical release.

7. I haven't seen as many examples of this since May, at least not as dramatic as the ones I cited back then. I think it's still being done, but perhaps less noticably. The DVD market continues to grow in a major way, much more robustly than the videocassette market ever did, so the best is yet to come here.

6. Cross-branding: TV and print: Disney and Hearst have launched Lifetime magazine this week, trying to capitalize on the Lifetime TV brand among women in their 30s--not coincidentally, the prime magazine-reading audience. Success here will spawn a parade of similar efforts; failure will scare others away.

6. I haven't kept up with the fortunes of Lifetime the magazine; as far as I know, it's still being published (not unusual, in that even if wasn't performing well, it'd be too early to pull the plug). The other factor in this mix, sort of, has been the contentious collapse of Rosie O'Donnell's magazine Rosie, with issues between her and her publisher being hashed out in highly-public court hearings. That episode might have detered the further introduction of cross-branded television/magazine vehicles. This approach seems to be limited to Disney for now; note the relative earlier success in this area with ESPN The Magazine, using the Disney-owned sports network to launch a rival to long-established Sports Illustrated. The rest of the magazine publishing industry hasn't seemed too eager to emulate, though.

5. Copyprotection of digital media: As more and more endproducts (music and software CDs, DVDs, etc.) come equipped with copyprotection methods, what sort of reaction will consumers have? Will they boycott such products, or just buy them without a squawk? How will it affect the filesharing programs/sites that depend on a fairly easy method of ripping content and uploading it? And will this be enough, or will those industries continue to go after ISPs to choke things off at the source?

5. The copyprotections built into physical discs themselves don't seem to be making many waves with the average consumer. What's happened since April has been the very visible prosecution by the music industry of individual fileswappers, which has had some impact on the peer-to-peer networks (although not nearly enough to take them down). DVDs have been successfully introduced laden with this protective encoding, without any noticable objection. Of course, part of that is because the fileswapping of digitized movies, which require much more time and resources, hasn't taken off at anything near the levels of music, and may never do so.

4. Satellite Radio: This could be a make-or-break year for Sirius and XM. Both are starting to put together substantial subscriber rolls, which will fuel their growth and make one or both juicy takeover targets. Especially by year's end, after holiday sales could give both a big boost, the future of satellite radio could create a turf war in this medium akin to the cable-broadcast battle in TV.

4. Based on promising indicators from this past holiday season for both Sirius and XM, it looks like satellite radio is shifting into high gear. The cable-broadcast analogy might be further off, however.

3. TiVo Nation: Are consumers that willing to add another service bill to their home media universe? If cable systems across the country really start rolling out their own DVR settop boxes in earnest, this device will really have arrived, and the start of radically new media consumption will have begun. Accordingly, a lot of proposed countermeasures for advertising will at long last be put to the test.

3. The adoption of digital video recorders has been slow, even with many major cable providers across the U.S. adding them to their services. Tivo itself has done well, expecting to surpass 1 million subscribers by the end of 2003, but as a company, it's facing some stiff competition. Overall, the user base for DVRs is still too small to wonder much about the embedded advertising content being talked about, so the 30-second television spot is still safe. If growth trends continue, however, it could be a different story by 2005.

2. Another ad downturn?: The last thing we need, but consider: The much-ballyhooed Iraq effect did nothing but provide a short-lived boost, for advertising and the economy in general. As the postwar experience drags out on shaky ground, and the cost of the war comes home, we could be right back where we were, or worse, by year's end.

2. It's been a mixed bag for the media industry. Advertising never did find a stable footing last year, even though each coming quarter supposedly promised a recovery. Similarly, the end of 2003 indicated a boost in advertising sales, especially for newspapers. The relatively good news has been that there hasn't been a further downturn, but the industry continues to wait for some sustained sign of rebounding.

1. June 2nd, 2003: The date of the FCC's decision on whether or not to change media ownership rules. 'Nuff said.

1. The sweeping changes that were to come with the FCC's rule changes for media ownership became stillborn when unexpected opposition arose in Congress. As a result, media companies that were prepared to move based on the new climate have had to hold back and wait for a final resolution. That's not expected until mid-2004, so the expected impact won't be seen until then. I expect the changes to be minimal as a result; the television industry might be the biggest beneficiary, with other areas not seeing much difference.

That's all she wrote. Overall, I think I expected a lot more sea change, or at least clearer indications, by now. I probably overreached in that respect. In any case, 2004 should hold as much intrigue.