Are We Missing the Point?


When new technologies come along, existing businesses as a rule, tend to adapt those new technologies to their existing way of working.

Sometimes that new technology does not fit the old ways at all, or barely. But because businesses can generally only see the world in a very limited way, they tend to try and shoehorn a round peg into a square hole.

Most times it does not work.

Take a look at The New York Times.

Certainly filled with very smart people.

They have been in the newspaper business for 150 years. It is a business they understand very very well.

Now the newspaper business is in very serous trouble. The New York Times reported it, itself:

IN many towns and cities, the newspaper is an endangered species. At least 300 daily papers have stopped publishing over the past 30 years. Those newspapers that have survived are struggling financially. Newspaper circulation has declined steadily for more than 10 years. Average daily circulation is down 2.6 percent in the last six months alone.

Newspapers have also been hurt by significant cuts in advertising revenue, which accounts for at least 75 percent of their revenue. Their share of the advertising market has fallen every year for the past decade, while online advertising has increased greatly.

The pressure, of course, has come from the web. And The New York Times, like so many other papers has responded by trying to move its contents to the web. And they have an excellent website.

But look at their site.

What do you see, but a newspaper. A black and white newspaper posted on the web.

We all know that the web does a lot of things – creates dialogues, communities, video, stills, search engines, purchases. It is a very multifacted vibrant place. But when The Times confronts the web, the best thing they can think of doing is posting their printed newspaper online. Its almost webprint. Static. Certainly factually correct, but not really webby…. so to speak. Its a kind of artifact from another world jammed into webworld.

Websites like Facebook, with its $15 billion valuation are pure web products. Their architecture grew from the web, instead of having an older architecture jammed into it.

Now television confronts the web.

And in doing so, it tends to make the same mistakes that newspapers have already made: Jamming their old design into the web. Square pegs… round holes.

Television was all about passive ‘watching’; cause that was all television could do.

When TV comes to the web, it tends to stick to the ‘passive watching’ model, but now you can do it when you want. Better, but still limited.

The web is about choices and about communities.

Look at the best websites – Facebook, eBay, Amazon, MySpace, Youtube. They are about communities – not really about content. While millions are on MySpace or Facebook or Youtube, there is not much comment (or concern) there about the content. We don’t get into protracted discussions about the quality of the content on Facebook (even though there is a lot of it). Same goes for Youtube.

I hear people in ‘the industry’ shocked all the time about the terrible quality of the content on Youtube. And they are right. It is terrible. But they take all the wrong lessons away from that: “The standards have gotten lower. People will watch anything”.


Youtube is not about ‘watching’ anymore than Facebook is about reading.. or photography. These sites are about the ‘community’ that surrounds them. Its about the participation – the act of participating. The fact that you can.

So what kind of TV show works online? Well, you can certainly show LOST online and people will watch. But it’s not really the web. Its putting TV on the web.

But suppose you created a TV show where people all joined in? Where it was about the community first and the content second.

Would it work?

Would it resonate?

Let’s give it a shot and see.


5 responses to “Are We Missing the Point?

  1. “But suppose you created a TV show where people all joined in? Where it was about the community first and the content second.”

    I believe “LonelyGirl15” was crafted on that exact premise.

    Also, MySpace plows ahead with their social network/original series, “Quarterlife” and “Roommates”.

    Any thoughts?

  2. I don’t think “Lonely Girl 15” was a community television program. It was popular on YouTube and made news elsewhere about it’s popularity. “Quarterlife” and “Roommates” are made-for-the-web programs that use Myspace as a channel. Neither are doing that well by television standards — Roommates Ep 1 has 454,000 views, Ep 15 has only 78,000 (but it’s only been up for a week). It’s sponsored by Ford and it’s promos feature 4 bikini clad babes. Seems a lot like traditional TV. Quarterlife has 1300 subscribers — out of how many MySpace users??

    There are lots of websites that act like TV channels– all the TV channels have them. The only difference here is that MySpace does not broadcast.

    Michael’s community first, content second comcept is a new model that I don’t think we’ve seen yet.

  3. The entertainment industry has always been curiously behind the times in providing ancillary content that the customer wants: ie the Star Trek conventions of the 1970’s put on not by the content originator but by entepreneurs. The same reluctance of the entertainment industry to provide products led to a black market of photos, scripts, items from movies/tv, with all profits accruing to third parties.

    Just as high-quality movies and television shows can’t be produced by the general public though, neither can newspaper stories be produced by people sitting in front of their computers. SOMEBODY must actually go out and GET the news, photos, interviews, etc. This is the actuality the bottom line that cannot be substituted by someone creating a site in front of their computer.

    With the cost of admission covering costs of movies, and the cost of advertising covering costs of television, the obvious model for newspapers is to either raise admission prices (price of printed or on-line newspaper) to emulate the entertainment industry and thus cover the cost of production, or develop other streams of revenue.

    Newspapers could integrate to be web communities with messages, posting boards for every story, etc. But there isn’t an easy way to make money off this except in the same way newspapers always have: sell advertising around the edges of the content, whether printed or online.

    Developing ancillary products (analogous to the photos, conventions, dvds of the entertainment industry) and selling them successfully to its online community would open an entire new horizon for newspapers. Think, for instance, of the millions of dollars action figure licensing brings: all that is needed to translate this to the newspaper model is the cult of personality…develop the good-looking, charming or otherwise attractive reporters, then market their looks instead of just their written output.

  4. Pingback: ABC Digital Futures » Blog Archive » Media consumption is becoming a networked practice

  5. Square pegs and round holes indeed. I think the issue is that old-school companies look at a new technology and think, “How can we distribute our product through this platform?” New companies, which haven’t built their entire business around the old platform, think, “How can we come up with a new product that fits what this technology is capable of?”

    More thoughts on this subject here:

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